My husband and I are planning our first trip to Europe (and out of the country). We're visiting Austria and the Czech Republic. Much of the planning is already done...planes, hotels/apartments, etc. We travel often within the U.S. and love seeing new places. But - I'm surprised at how nervous we both are about the trip! It feels like there is so much we won't know, no matter how much we read. Does anybody else have experience with or tips for getting over these feelings? Everything from the language to transportation to the currency has us a little worried. We're both excited, and we both realize that part of what makes this trip so exciting is also what makes it nerve-wracking.
I guess I'm just looking for someone to say "I was nervous too but ___ made me feel better and we had a great trip!" :) Thanks everyone.
Hi JJ. What exactly are you nervous about? Figuring out the train system between the two countries? Understanding the money? Knowing how just how many words in each language you might have to know?
With regard to language, it's polite to learn a few phrases in the language of each country you'll visit. Some of the more common things you'll say are:
-Do you speak English?
-Where is... the bathroom, the train station, the nearest subway stop, etc.
-How much does this cost?
Also familiarize yourself with food names and terms so that you'll have a general idea of what to order.
For currency, I'd advise going to your bank or AAA, whichever has the better exchange rate, and getting fifty or hundred or so euros and korunas (if available) to start you off on your trip. I like to have some local currency with me when I arrive in a country so I don't have to worry about finding an ATM right away. Getting the money in advance is also a good way to become familiar with what the bills look like. (You may not receive coins in the U.S.)
When is your trip and how long is it? Have you notified your bank and credit card companies about the trip so that they won't flag your cards when you use them over there?
Expect to make mistakes, not to know where you're going sometimes, and to bungle the language. That's all part of learning what the heck you're doing. Congrats to both of you for taking the leap! You won't let your fear of the unknown keep you from doing what you want. Remember that!
I was nervous too but [just doing it] made me feel better and we had a great trip :)
Seriously, you will be nervous until you are there, that's totally normal. Prepare as much as you feel you need to to enjoy yourselves. Think of the amount of planning and research you like to do when visiting a new US city, and do 25% more for international. Plus learning a few words of the language (hello, thank you, do you speak English, goodbye…the basics). Read guidebooks, and I also like RS Europe Through the Back door (a travel skills book). Once you've done a reasonable amount of planning, you just need to go and enjoy yourselves. Something will be less than perfect…but that's part of the experience. Accept that and you're good.
My one piece of advice above the usual planning is to have your maps and a good lay of the land in the major cities and towns on your trip. Knowing the layout of the place is immensely helpful to me - not just a cursory glance, I like to really feel like I have a good sense of where the stuff I want to see is.
Get the RS guides for the countries or cities you plan to visit. These guides are very good for the first-time visitor. If you buy the ebook version and take a reader or iPad with you, you will be able to use them almost everywhere you go.
Remember to breathe. Last year I visited several countries for the first time (Germany, Poland, Austria, Croatia) and France for the first time as more than a stopover. You will be surprised at how much you learn in one city will transfer to another (I am confident I can figure out a train timetable anywhere in the world, in any language). Learn some polite phrases in the languages of the countries you'll visit. Take advantage of the online help - sites like seat61.com for train travel is a good one.
Take your first day kind of slow, and enjoy all the new sights, smells, tastes and sounds. It's one world.
I was very nervous about little things before my first trip to Italy. I read about the trains and thought it sounded so complicated. When I got there . . . it was easy. I was worried about getting on and off the water bus in Venice with my suitcase - it was easy. I even found my hotel after dark in Venice without one wrong turn . . though I still don't know exactly how that happened. I get lost almost everywhere, but it always turns out okay. Sometimes it's even better that way.
In Vienna, I thought I would be able to use a few of my German phrases. Everyone spoke to me only in English!
I worried about things in Prague too . . . guess what - nothing went wrong. I did spend a half hour waiting for a bus because I didn't check the timetable in advance. On the other hand, I got a great tip on getting to the airport from a chance conversation with someone.
I don't know what you can do to quiet the nerves. Take deep breaths, maybe. Drink a glass on wine. Oh wait, you're going to beer country, guess you should make that a bottle of beer.
I always pack a few days early and from a well-considered packing list. Then I have time to add or subtract items and there's no last-minute rush. I also make a checklist of things to do "before I leave."
You're going to screw up half of what you touch. Live with it.
I've been at it since I was I wee kid, have stumbled through more than a hundred countries, and have spent more than half of my life outside the United States. I speak more languages than you can shake a stick at. I've finally gotten it down to where I only screw up a third of what I touch.
Put your head down and charge.
I have had a number of trips by myself to places I had no idea what I was doing... I remember sitting in a French restaurant and being nervous because I did not know how to order lunch... I just pointed at what someone else was having, paid the bill by CC so I would not have to deal with the money (which I forgot to change and it was still francs then) and was really proud of myself for managing lunch:) I think the biggest fear most people have is they will appear to be foolish... I got over that a long time ago, as I am often lost or need help from a local... just smile, ask politely and you will be amazed at the kind of help people will give you. I decided that I needed to ask myself 'what is the worst thing that can happen?' and if it's not life threatening it is probably okay. Things will go wrong but they make for the best stories..it's is also when you learn the most about travel and quite possibly yourself.
You accept that lots of things may be out of your control...just roll with it and you will have a fabulous trip and probably learn to laugh at yourself. I sometimes think we mistake being excited for being nervous:))
There is an old military saying that all plans go to hell with the first shot. Someways that is what I feel about planning for any trip and especially Europe. Someone suggested planning 20% more planning than you would for the US. For us that would not work. Some people do over plan and then are unhappy when the plan did not work.
Our first trip to Europe was with three days notice and absolutely no planning other than we knew where the plane was going to land and when it was taking off. Of course, that was forty years ago when there was no internet, extensive guide books and we just went with the TIs. We are not that loose these day since we plan the big picture - cities, trains, hotels. But we don't do the hour to hour planning that is often posted here. Even when we plan the fourth or fifth day is never planned. We either use that for rest, which is very important, or to catch up on the things we missed during the previous days. Your need to be flexible and able to go with the flow. Remember, most of the people around are tourists. And we have the attitude that if we missed it this time, we will catch it next time.
I am sure your first day or two could be a little rough but after that you should settle into a routine. Everyone is generally very helpful from a restaurant waiter to cab driver. Don't be afraid to ask. Nearly everyone associated with tourist industry will speak a little English. We also hit the TI very early to help with orientation if in a new location. The Euro is no different than the dollar. Just a difference is how much it will buy. Personally believe that your attitude will be the biggest determinate in how well the plan goes.
Thank you all for the replies! I know you're all right...mistakes will be made, but that's half the journey. I wouldn't say looking foolish is my main concern (although I don't love looking foolish!). I suppose overall I worry about two big, overarching things: time (getting places on time, not taking the wrong train/tram and doubling back, getting lost, etc.) and money (overpaying/getting ripped off, making mistakes with transportation and having to pay more, etc.). I'm also someone who gets lost very easily - even in my home city I rely on my phone to get around, and I know that won't really be an option in Europe (unless I'm connected to Wifi).
Still, I would say I'm much more excited than nervous. My husband and I are planners, so I know we'll be as prepared as we can be before embarking on the unknown.
JJ, don't over-think this. You are already way ahead of the game with all the research that you have done here the last couple months. We took our 1st trip abroad to Amsterdam in 2009, and had little preparation other than knowing some of the things we wanted to do, had not yet discovered this, or any other, travel site. And we realized afterwards that we could have done some of the planning better, but everything went fine. You are more prepared than we were, don't fret it.
You will adapt to the money difference and the transportation when you arrive there much quicker than you think.
Did you get a good map of Prague (like the Borch series) yet? Much cheaper and more dependable than Wifi (people did travel travel before the internet)
It's happy hour, enjoy a glass of wine.
We still get nervous. But, we're learning to let go. I think we've all gotten lost and many of us have been "ripped off". It's never fatal and these are the stories you'll tell for years - and laugh. Europeans are much more accustomed to tourists than we are and frequently reach out if you look lost. I can't say that I've ever approached a tourist and asked if they needed help, but Europeans frequently will. We still laugh about the 70 yr.old French lady that insisted of helping us with our luggage. My one tip is either google street view or you-tube the area your going so that you have some familiarity of what you're seeing. You are going to have more fun than you can imagine.
"I was nervous too but the liquor on the flight over made me feel better and we had a great trip!
Even after many trips I still get nervous, especially right before I leave. But once I am there, the nerves go away. Some thoughts that help me are to think of how many people successfully plan and complete trips to Europe every year and manage it successfully! If they can do it, if I can do it, so can you. The transportation connections are often a cause of a lot of my worries before the trip, so I always make sure I have plenty of time between flights and train connections. It also helps me to think of the worse thing that can happen, and realize it isn't really all that bad. Then, just accept that you will make some mistakes and some things won't go as planned. As a previous poster said, sometimes it's the mistakes that are the most memorable. They make good stories later on!
Instead of worrying, replace those thoughts with: this trip is going to be so fun and amazing!! And I'm telling you it will be. You're going to have so much fun you're going to be sad to leave.
I am so glad that you posted this JJ! I could have written the exact post with the only difference being that my husband and I are traveling with our 3 children as well. We were quite overwhelmed by the prospect of planning this trip so we went ahead and booked a RS tour for our family. Since booking the tour (so that someone else could worry about the details..) we have extended the vacation by a week on either end and I am back to square one trying to organize trains, hotels, airport transfers, etc... what were we thinking??? At times I feel that we are on top of everything and then I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat. Last night I dreamed that we arrived with backpacks full of clothes and passports but nothing else - no money, no toiletries, no medications, no reservation papers... In my dream it all worked out when I found that there are stores in Europe - who knew!
No issues planning travel here in the USA but this first time over the ocean is causing us to worry too. Thank you for posting and for all of the veterans who have responded.
Tip:pls do not overpack. Pack less than you think you need. Doing so will actually benefit your trip. Hauling luggage is a pain.
When you get off the plane tired from the overnight flight.......... Take a deep breath. Relax. Some things will go right, some will go wrong and you will still enjoy a great trip if............ You accept these experiences are all part of the journey. Your preparation speaks well for being ready to create some wonderful memories. So when things grow hectic and glitches occur, find an outdoor cafe and drink some adult lemonade.
You will be fine.
Relax. Most of the stuff you worry about will not happen. If something does go awry, take a deep breath and ask someone for help. A lot of the time you won't need to even ask because someone will see that you need help. We have always been heartened by how kind the people in Europe are. Getting lost, getting on the wrong train/tram, etc, these are our favorite memories. Have fun!
As all have said, things will go wrong but those are some of our best laughing out loud memories. My biggest bit of advice is that you get a business card from the hotel you are staying in as you may be tired and forget address, name, etc. I did this not once but twice. Twenty years later my son still reminds me of leaving my two sons in our hotel in Paris to go get rental car and I was so overwhelmed coming back to pick them up that I completely forgot name of hotel for a couple of hours. LOL, we were staying across from La Sorbonne and our hotel was named Hotel de La Sorbonne. Just relax and enjoy and go back again.
"I was nervous too" on my first, second, third trip, trying out my limited french.... and will be on my 4th trip this year.
I will let you in on a secret. That "nervousness" will morp into "EXCITEMENT" once youre on the ground! And the worst part of it, is that YOU WILL WANT TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN ASAP!
Its just like falling off a bike or horse. once youve done it, its easy(er) the next time.
In my opinion, why would you want to get over the feelings you have. Its natures way of keeping you alive. Just suck it up and live with it and then look back once your home ,have a good laugh.
You have 99% of the important stuff done. all you have to do is show up.
Money. Its a no brainer with credit/debit cards and such. All you have to do is walkup to an ATM (they have them outside of the USA too) and use it just like you would at home. Its funny when you realize the ATM is dispensing foreign money since you get so use to seeing greenback popping out of it.
Language. This is also low hanging fruit. They know Americans are stupid and dont know a 2nd language. Just be polite and TRY to learn some simple words. They will appreciate it. This is where i wish i would have learned some 2nd or 3rd language.
Nervous about the first trip over? Maybe it's just a case of the travel willies? If you think it would help in lessening the nervousness, I suggest landing in London after the transatlantic flight, jet lag or non jet lag. Fly to LHR (London Heathrow) first. That's what I did my first time over in 1971 as a backpacker student tourist, not so much out ot immediate desire but that London was the point of arrival for the charter flight I booked. That turned out well since as a solo traveler with zero French I would have been overwhelmed had Paris been the point of arrival.
Absolutely no need to see the trip as nerve-wracking. It's a lot easier traveling now in Europe than it was 44 years ago., and I am only talking about going to the non-Soviet bloc countries back then, as regards to language, transportation, accomodations, finances, currency, places being "tourist friendly," etc. In Central Europe then (Czech, Hungary, western Poland), the immediate second language was German spoken by the older and younger generation, even though Russian was compulsory. Now, it is English, plain and simple, which is the second language. I recall arriving at the train station in Prague in July '73, saw the first sign for exchanging travelers checks...in Czech, Cyrillic Russian, and German. That's defintely no longer the case, since English would be listed too.
JJ you are nervous because going to Europe IS a big deal! So many arrangements to make (will Fluffy be happy with the sitter? Have I put the mail on hold? Etc.) But relax, just follow the RS guide book and try to visit all sights with 3 triangles first and you will have a great trip! And be flexible above all-that way nothing will spoil your trip.
For the major concerns you have: Getting to places on time - it's your vacation. The few times you should feel the need to get somewhere "on time" would pretty much be related to catching a train or plane. Calculate about how far/how long it will take to get to the station/airport from wherever you are starting from and add a buffer of another 15-60 minutes (shorter if you are headed there during off peak hours, longer if you are trying to get there during morning or evening rush hours). Most transit systems (local buses, trams, subways) have websites and maps online that you can look at in advance of your trip. Figure out some of the things you want to see and look to see what the closest transit stop(s) are and figure out in advance how to get from your hotel to those sights (how many blocks to walk to the line you need to catch from the hotel? what stop do you need to transfer to catch another bus/tram/subway?).
Getting lost - Know that at some point, you will get lost. You will walk the wrong direction and need to backtrack. If you don't speak up and ask or look carefully at the signs on the train/subway platforms, buses, etc. you could find yourself hopping on the wrong transit line or getting off too early/too late. Again, ask questions or study your maps in advance of leaving the hotel or wherever you stopped for a break before you move on to the next destination. If I know I will be in one section of a large urban city in the morning and then after lunch I need to hop a subway and transfer several times underground to get to another part of the city, I'll write myself a post-it note outlining what train number I need to catch (and what direction train needs to be headed), the number of stops the train will make before I need to transfer to the next train, etc. Rather than have to pull out a map or consult my phone which may not have a signal underground, I just take out the post-it note and refer to that.
Getting ripped off - Sure, you might run into a taxi driver who takes the long way across town, or you don't barter with the lady at the local flea market and you pay too much for some souvenirs. Not the end of the world. Pay attention to your bill when it is presented to you. Know when and when not to leave a tip (and how much to leave - a few coins... 10% of the total…) depending on the circumstances.
Language - as others have said, learn a few very basic polite words and phrases (especially "Hello" "Excuse me" "Do you speak English?") and start off every single conversation in their language - even if you know that you are botching it. Make the attempt and you'll find the majority of the time they will switch to English. Just about anyone under the age of 50 will know some English.
It's your first trip outside of the country. So most importantly, do not expect everything to be like it is in the U.S. Don't expect every hotel will be like the Ritz Carlton or even the Comfort Inn. Don't expect that you will always find the exact brands of beer or deodorant or salad dressing that you always buy in the U.S. Don't expect every service person to be bending over backwards to smile at you and answer 100 questions or serve your food and bring your bill quickly. Things will be different than they are back in the U.S. and you can expect that some of those differences you will really like and others you will absolutely hate.
A couple of suggestions: at train stations there is usually a big poster showing departures with every stop listed. I sometimes take a photo of the schedule showing the train I need so I know when my stop is coming up. Or just write down the name of the stop before yours so you know when to gather your stuff and move toward the door.
As for planning your day's transportation logistics, when I need help I ask the front desk for route information like bus #s rather than look it up myself (or you could see if there's an app for your city and use that).
Also at train stations, I often confirm that I'm about to board the right train by asking rail personnel at the track or another passenger.
I'm learning to just go with the flow. Our very first trip to Europe in 2008, we had a series of train mishaps in one day, beginning with missing our connection in Milan because our slow train was late, having to wait an hour, getting put on the wrong train and ending up going to Verona instead of Bologna due to a misunderstanding - we had been on the correct train but a mistake was made by the person in the ticket office (I won't get into it) and we ended up on the wrong train - pulling out of the station when the ticket checker told us we had been on the right train in the first place (at which point I had a breakdown and ended up crying in the washroom)...and then we missed out connection in Verona (another late arriving train), had another hour wait - needless to say, we ended up in Bologna 4-5 hrs later then expected (we had accoms already set up). It's funny now to think back over the comedy of errors, but at the time I almost had a mental breakdown.
I guess in the end, you just roll with the punches, take any mishaps as learning experiences for future trips (we certainly learned from our train mishaps). Laugh about the little mistakes and realize that people in other countries have seen way worse things then you will probably do (unless death or dismemberment are involved - lol), and will forget about any little transgression you may make 5 min after you do it. Don't sweat the small stuff.
(As a PS - I was totally freaked out about hubby and I renting a car in France and driving in a foreign country - almost sick to my stomach thinking about it - so I just told myself hundreds of thousands of people do it every year and fully 50% of them are bigger idiots then my husband and me. If they can do it with no issues, it should be a breeze for us! And it was - I enjoyed it so much, I can't wait to do it again!)
I missed a train on one of my first trips to Europe because I got mixed up with the 24 hour clock. I took the next train, no big deal really (the ticket seller allowed me to trade my ticket for the next departure). I now wear a Timex watch with both sets of numbers on the face and haven't missed another train. :)
I'll second the advice to bring RS guidebooks for the countries you're visiting--I've checked out others but find that Rick's advice just seems to mesh perfectly with my travel mindset. I travel alone so I find that if I know exactly how to get from the airport to my hotel I feel much more confident about setting out in the first place. I choose hotels that are rated high for the helpfulness of the front desk--even though I have a game plan, sometimes I need to be pointed in the right direction. And while it helps to know a bit of the language (I like to be able to read signs, mostly), I've found that people who deal with tourists generally speak English and in big cities there's plenty of signage in English as well. As for dealing with euros, it's a money system quite similar to US dollars; 5, 10, 20 and 50 in paper, 1 and 2 in coins and you won't be baffled by it at all once you're there. I'm going to Austria myself this summer, and then to Hungary and will admit to a bit of nervousness about the forint, which is something like 200 forints = $1.
it's fear of unknown. Austria and the Czech Republic are two of the safest countries anywhere. Car is not needed unless you want to see a lot of countryside. Austria uses Euro, which is little stronger than dollar. In Czech Republic there is koruna (crown). About 20 crowns in one dollar. Besides guidebooks read Culture Shock Czech Republic and I think there is also Culture Shock Austria. These two countries have similar customs, cuisines, traditions, no wonder, less than hundred years ago it used to be one country. European countries are much more similar to US in standard of living, customs etc., than countries in Asia, Africa, Central and South America. About fear of unknown: I know some people in Europe who were afraid to travel to USA because everybody can have a gun in US and they were afraid they would be shot. At least you don't have to fear that in Austria and C.R. But they are some con-artists and pickpockets there. Just use common sense and be alert. In my 20 plus trips they never got me. I agree with others that your nervousness is excitement. You are entitled to it. It's your first trip out of the country.
I recommend you absorb Rick Steves instructions on how to deal with European trains. It's not difficult. (become familiar with telling time by 24-hour clock!) Learn how to deal with the metro, if there is one where you are going. I took trains and metro on my own on my first trip to Europe with no problem. Pay attention and you will not get lost. Ask a conductor at train station for help.
I also suggest you know the conversion rate of Euros, and other currency and accurately keep track of what you are spending in dollars, or have on-line access to your accounts so you can monitor what you have actually spent or withdrawn.
Once the basics of your transportation and money are solid, you can relax and enjoy yourself, which I know you will.
No need to be nervous, it should be a great, fun adventure.
I want to add something for your train FYI. since i never stepped foot on a train until i got there but i really love them now and wish i could travel like that in the USA.
But fyi, when you go to read where your train/platform is located, sometimes the train/platform is not listed until 15 or so minutes before your departure. I found out that when i got there 1 hour early and didnt find my train/platform listed. But after waiting 45 minutes or so and when the board refreshed, there it was.
another thing which is minor is which car is 1 or 2nd class. Some of the stations had what i call "car" maps where they will show the train number and which car is 1st or 2nd or the food car. But what i do now is to look for the car with 3 seats and they are usually 1st class so i move to the one that inst. If you go to the maninseat61 i think there are some seating maps of the rail cars. the worse that will happen is that when the person checking your tickets will tell you so.
also just so you know if you have RS books much of it is spot on and to me it gave me a deja-vu feeling.
You won't get everything exactly right, and you certainly won't take advantage of every possible discount. But none of this matters. You'll still have a better time.than you would if you stayed at home.
Europe is so geared towards tourist that you will find it relatively easy to move around. Every train station and mayor city has an information/tourist office that will help you get oriented. After the first week you will feel at ease specially if you get to meet and see others like you moving around. Follow RS money tips and enjoy everything. If you hit bumps in the road just think of what good stories they will make a few years down the road. Have fun.
"I was nervous too but I realized screwing up was half the fun and I had a great trip (and keep going back)"
I think some of my best memories come from times when things did not go according to plan. Years ago on my first solo journey in France the train had some sort of malfunction and was delayed a couple of hours. I do not know why, although some nice gentlemen in the train car and I managed to get through broken english and french that there was a problem. I ended up in a rural French town after dark, after the closing time for my hostel and had another pantomime interaction with an innkeeper for a bed and a sandwich. Probably the best sandwich I have had, and a decent place to stay. This is still a story that sticks out 10 years later from a 2 month adventure and it would not have happened if the train had not broken down.
So to echo everyone else, you will mess up the language, you will get lost, you will get tired and stressed out. If/when this happens, take a break (coffee, ice cream, beer, chocolate). You can always take a taxi if you are really lost or frustrated and cannot find your hotel. I like the trip adviser city guides app because it sometimes points you in the right direction, or you can triangulate your position based on other landmarks. People are for the most part really nice and want to make sure you are going where you need to go.
Have an awesome trip!!!!
After more than a dozen Europe trips I still get nervous. I worry about making some mistake or experiencing some unspecified calamity that will end up costing us a fortune (like missing a flight) or ruin the trip. It's scary getting out of the comfort bubble of the daily routine, but it's also essential. I think the worry comes from having to manage your regular daily life at the same time you are planning a trip. It's a lot to think about. But when your trip is underway, your only job is to execute on your plan and enjoy yourself. So for me, it clears up once we have landed over there. You are going to get on that plane, then you just put one foot in front of the other. You will run into situations where your plans were not realistic in terms of timing, you take the wrong train, miss the train, or similar, and waste time. You will spend too much because of some mistake you made, but you just have to shrug it off. For the big things (making your flight), build in some safety margin so that you can feel safe that you won't make a huge expensive mistake. Realize that you will run out of time to do everything you would like, that's what return visits are for. For the big city locations, I recommend getting those laminated maps. One of you should be comfortable reading a map. Use transit stops to orient yourself. Personally I love the map reading part and treasure my collection of maps from all over Europe (and many U.S. cities too). We experience some minor mishaps on nearly every trip, usually taking a lot longer getting from place to place than we planned. All our trips have been great though, and I am sure yours will be the same.
As saying says: s..t happens. We know it will happen so why to be nervous about it. It's better to laugh at it. Well, you probably won't laugh right then but later. Once we were staying in Cinque Terra Vernazza and were visiting Monte Rosso. Being good at reading timetables, maps etc., I supposed that everybody is and sent my young adult son and my friend to check schedule when our train goes back to Vernazza and I was doing something else, I forgot what, maybe shopping. They found the time of departure and we boarded evening train to Vernazza without me bothering to recheck it. To my (and their) unpleasant surprise we just flew through Vernazza and all other Cinque Terra towns until we finally stopped in La Spezia. It was some kind of express. Then we spent about one hour in line to buy tickets back and caught late night train back. Believe me, this time I checked the schedule myself. Now it's funny. Then it wasn't.
Yes, we were chatting with some Australians on the train and missed our stop in one of the CT tunnels. We had to have dinner in La Spezia and catch a later train back. No biggie. But I think the post from VS is the one I identify with the most. After 15 trips I will say that there's always one day when I am overtired and end up crying over being lost or some other minor episode. But, as others have said, stopping for a glass of wine takes care of it! You'll have a wonderful time.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. JJ,
I lived a long competent life before traveling abroad alone. All of these details over which we fret endlessly (I still do before I'm on my way) we accomplish effortlessly here. One day I realized that I was afraid of making a fool of myself, and was therefor limiting myself a lot. I have asked for all manner of help when abroad - how do I turn on the bathroom light? (It's a little like starting school, now that I think about it!) You may eat something you don't recognize (at least the Austrian coffee is reliable!), but you won't starve. You may accidentally tip way too much or way too little, but you will be just fine.
Just as I love helping people here where I'm still competent, citizens of the world love to help others. I now laugh at myself when something goes 'wrong' - it's an essential!
Have a great time -
What you don't know, the surprises - both pleasant and unpleasant - are what you will remember ten years from now.
Stay optimistic and keep your sense of humor (and don't lose your passport, credit and debit cards). Everything else can go completely wrong and you can still have a great, memorable time.
If you ask experienced travelers what we liked best about our last trip, I'd bet it won't be the things we were comfortable with like using public transportation or eating local food. I'd bet it's the something new and/or unexpected we experienced for the first time.
People talking about missing their train reminds me of when we were in Corniglia, Cinque Terre in 2012, having supper, we started chatting with a girl from New Zealand - well, it turned into almost a 3 hour chat! It was getting on to I think 10pm...when she headed for the train stn - just missing the 10pm train. And then she had to wait an hour for the next train...I think she got back to her room at midnight (I don't know which village or town she was in)! We know this because we ran into her in one of the villages the next day...I felt so bad! So you may want to be aware of train schedules at night if you are in smaller places.
As everyone has pointed out, the nerves will subside once you arrive. I'm always nervous before traveling but once I get there, my nerves disappear because I'm so excited to finally be there. Everyone experiences hiccups in their travels, but you learn to just shrug them off and keep going...they make for great stories later! I found myself completely lost leaving Naples airport a few years back. It took me 2 hours to figure out how to leave the city in order to drive to Sorrento. It's a great story now, was a bit frustrating at the time, but like I said, "hiccups".
You'll have a wonderful time!
Everyone is different. If I tried to figure out how I needed to get to everywhere I wanted to go before I left the country, my head would burst! Frankly, if you know every place you want to go before you leave home, you have waaaay overplanned and left nothing to serendipity. One step/day at a time. If I do get turned around, a good map, a good compass and good friendly people and I'm good to go. Just be sure that you haven't got such a set schedule that you're constantly nervous about the time. I only get concerned about catching my plane to get there and the one coming home. And usually I'd be alright missing the one coming home! Missing anything else is no big deal.
If everything had gone smoothly on our trips, I wonder what we would talk about now? So many of our memories are about the serendipitous things that happened and people we met as well as the things that go wrong--like the time I got outvoted 2 to 1 about which train was ours so we ended up on the wrong one. I'm still saying "I told you so".
One my best tips is to carry a small pocket notebook and pen with you. If the language thing gets in the way and pantomiming doesn't work, write out the numbers or draw a picture. It's something I always use with ticket agents in train station.
As far as I'm concerned, the only thing to be really nervous about is forgetting your passport or credit card. And I DO worry about the passport. Everything else can be worked around.
"at least the Austrian coffee is reliable." Absolutely, and more than that. Next to coffee served in France, Austrian coffee, esp in Wien, is 2nd best.
"I was nervous too but I stopped researching. We had a great trip!" :)
I was driving myself crazy by all the "what ifs" (what if my money is taken, what if our flight is delayed and we miss our connection, what if we get lost, what if people laugh at me when I try to speak German.) I had read too many advice blogs, too many posts, and I started over thinking the whole thing.
I had to give myself the same talk I gave to myself before my wedding. "Suz, take a step back, breathe, know that something is going to go wrong and that something that goes wrong is going to make the best story in the world. Calm down, go with the flow and enjoy the process."
Once there all of the what ifs flew out the window and we had an amazing trip. No one laughed at me when I tried to speak German, most looked impressed that I was even trying. We did get lost, but those are the best stories. (Yes, my husband almost drove down some stairs when the road ended unexpectidaly) Our flight was delayed, but we still made the connecting flight and none of our money was taken. So take a break from the advice and perhaps, if you still want to plan, google pictures of the places instead for inspiration.
JJ, We were nervous too, last year when we made our first trip to Italy. Now we are about to leave on our 3rd trip to Europe and can't wait! Only natural, after all it is an unknown till you get there and see for yourself how wonderful it all is! Yes, you will feel disoriented and you probably will get a little lost. That is half the fun of it! Generally speaking, we found almost everyone to be extremely helpful and kind. Actually, for the most part, we found people more willing to be helpful than in the US. You are going to be so happy you made this trip! You have done your research, so go, enjoy, take it all in! Laugh at your mistakes and learn from them. What I learn on these forums continues to be invaluable, as I am still a beginner in the world of European travel. I'm always telling my husband, " Well, the people on the forum said........" Be sure and let everybody know how much fun you had when you get back!
One thing I learned as a kid during our family (of seven) three week summer vacations in station wagon across the US, is that when things go wrong (and they will), just look at it as part of the adventure and think of the great stories you will have to tell when you get home. The memories I have from these vacations over 40 years later include multiple trips to the ER, flat tires, getting lost, waking up to a foot of snow camping, leaving one of my brothers behind at a gas station, and the list goes on. Yes we visited many relatives, saw great scenery across the US, but the stories were always about the things that didn't go exactly right.
So just look at every aspect of your vacation as part of the adventure, whether things go smooth or not. Take your time and be methodical when traveling from point to point. If you are worried about missing the train, just arrive early, and enjoy the people watching while you wait. You can look at things as the "glass is half full" or "half empty". I'd personally like the "half full" mindset.
I have a packing list that I use for every trip and I update it over time. I print a copy for each trip to mark up as I check things off. The evening before we leave I'm going over that list! Some list items are tasks like hooking up timers on the lamps. Part of the list is things that we don't want to forget, like passports, credit cards, international drivers licenses, and also bathing suits, extra pair of glasses, birth control, i.e. things that yes we could obtain in Europe but would be inconvenient or expensive to track down. When someone in our the family declares they're done packing I go over the list with them. That usually results in a few extra things for the suitcase : ) But in the end my mental escape route is that if we have passports, drivers licenses and credit cards I figure we're ready to go and everything else is gravy.
I always get a little nervous when I travel, domestically or abroad, but I got REALLY nervous before I traveled solo to Paris even though I had been to Paris twice before. I was leaving my family behind, which I think added to it. And truthfully, I was still nervous when I woke up my first morning in Paris. But, I pushed through and had a great time.
My two pieces of advice are to not let your nervousness paralyze you--it's always best to get out and do what you planned. And, especially during the arrival portions of your trip, don't worry about rushing so much. I found it helpful for me to take my time and take a few deep breaths. Be aware of your surroundings, don't worry if it takes a minute to find an ATM/bus stop/train platform or schedule, and don't worry if you're not on the first bus or train out of the airport. There will be another one. When you can stop worrying about rushing, the nervousness may subside a bit.
Have a great time!!
I was very nervous too about my very first visit to Europe but doing my homework, planning, and knowing what I wanted to do and see made me feel better and we had a great trip. I think you can overplan for sure, but having a general idea about what you want to do with your time and how you are going to do it will help a great deal. The RS travel books really did help. I can go there now with no notice at all but I was very anxious on that first trip. Most of all, have a great time and leave time to do nothing and just enjoy where you are.
I always get nervous too, and am a huge planner. If you are like me, fear of the unknown will getcha. There is nothing you can do about it,but there's nothing that a little extra money or time can't fix. So they lost my luggage in Spain, luckily I had essentials in my carry on backpack and my suitcase eventually caught up with me ( now I do carry on only) Airline went on strike the day I left for Europe, took a different flight, pain in the butt, but got there and it wasn't the end of the world. Got off at the wrong train stop, oops, bought another ticket and forged ahead. Couldn't find the location to meet our tour, oh well, did something else instead. Got soaked, even with a rain poncho in Fussen on a bike tour, miserable but funny when we look back on it and at least we could dry our socks with the hand dryer in the public bathroom. In other words, go with the attitude that there will be problems, but so what. Are you going to die? Nope, so it's all good!
I can totally relate to having "travel nerves"! I am a planner as well but I start to get a nervous excitement before each trip. I was particularly nervous last year as we embarked on a 3-week trip to Italy that I had planned for the previous 2 years! It's not until I get on the plane and the doors shut that I'm able to relax and enjoy! We had a great trip that came off without any hitches and I was able to truly let go and enjoy once we left home. Sure we had some minor annoyances but they were really minor and they added to the overall experience. Once you are in Europe, you'll quickly adapt and get the hang of things so don't worry. I would suggest making a list of the top 10 things you are anxious about and then do whatever you can to address those concerns before you leave. For instance, if you're worried about the currency, purchase some currency before you leave the U.S. so you'll have some money handy when you land for taxis or a snack. Regarding the language barriers, there are some really good language apps and podcasts available and you can easily learn some key phrases before you go. Do what you can but don't worry too much...things always have a way of falling into place once you're there. Have a wonderful trip.
I love Becca's advice to "not let your nervousness paralyze you". It will be easier since there are 2 of you, but I found I had this issue when I traveled solo internationally for the first time last fall. It was on my arrival day, I had gotten to my hotel just fine, but was suddenly worried about going out alone. It was hot as heck, so I opted to drink some water and rest for an hour or so then decided on a short range target (locate the ticket booth I would need to find first thing the next morning). After I got out and got going it was fine, but I was so shocked at myself! I do think having a plan for a walk or easy sightseeing on your arrival day is good.
I know some disagree about getting Euro from home and advise just getting them when you get there, but having local currency in my pocket (or money belt, lol) really that increased my comfort level. I liked having money available for train and taxi fare from the airport and for meals the first day. By the second day I was ready to figure out the local ATMs.
You all are going to have a wonderful time!
I've been traveling to Europe since 1965 and I STILL get nervous before every trip! So don't beat yourself up. Everything the other posters have said is so true, so I won't reiterate ----just know that you're not alone in your nervousness!
What I do before a trip is to research where we are going, buy tickets, get lodging reserved, trains, cars. Then I make a time line, ie when to buy train tickets to get the best prices. I also go through my art history books to see what artwork is in what museum. I do this about 6-7 months before the trip. Then I forget about it for a few months. I really don't like to overplan every move we make. Also my husband is not interested in doing any of the planning but is great with a guidebook whiile we are there. I am a nervous flyer and I do worry a bit about making mistakes in my planning but everything turns out just great and we have a wonderful trip even with the mistakes. ( I once forgot about leaving from California, we wouldn't need lodging until the next day. As we were leaving for the airport we got a text saying that our room was ready). We don't speak other languages well. Just high school vintage French and German and that never seems to be a problem either.
I've been to Europe now about 6 times, and getting ready for 7th in July. This time solo. I find the planning and research to be a big part of the fun, though my spouse teases me a bit about it.
As others have said, once you get there, I've found it best to just 'let go' and enjoy the adventure without too much structure or time table. It's sort of like the difference between reading a cookbook and actually baking -- after all of the planning, you just have to be there, experiencing it first-hand.
I've gotten lost (or very turned around) in just about every city and that's part of the fun. I usually get most lost the first evening when it's dark. Ideally when you arrive you can do some exploration while it is still daylight out, that would help get your bearings. I also bring the hotel's business card (or address) with me in case I really get lost and need to catch a cab. I also make sure to keep a map with me, even if I have been to a city previously.
I do try to schedule some of the 'must-see' things I want to do or that may require reservations, but also leave plenty of leisurely free time. Then, I can decide to do something based on how I feel. (Often, the 'near the city' sites tend to fall off my itinerary as I get acclimated and enjoy just hanging out in the city itself). On my first trip to Europe, I over-planned and tried to see and do too much and wound up exhausted. Now, I know I will be back and just take everything in stride.
The RS books really are the best for a first-time visit. I might suggest supplementing them with a guide book that has color photos of the various city sites. I've sometimes had difficulty recognizing what I am seeing solely based on black/white postage stamp sized photos or drawings in Rick's books. Even the small, city-guides one finds at the airport can be helpful in that regard.
Finally, I tend to rely more on old-fashioned paper maps and routes than I-phone apps, which only work where you can get Wi-Fi and even if pre downloaded can be frustrating to navigate.
Have a wonderful time!
You're definitely not alone! I'm visiting Italy and Spain with friends this coming summer and I don't know what to expect. I'm just hoping for the best and I'm sure we're going to have a great time :)
No matter what country you travel to you are going to find the people have more in common with you than not. Yes, I was scared the first time we visited Italy. I was afraid I couldn't communicate with the locals. You will be surprised how multi-lingual the Europeans are. I find most of the stereotypes about other countries are generated by Uber-Americans who are entrenched in the superiority of their way of life.
You are doing the right thing by reading Rick's books. I have found them pretty much on the mark as far as advice. One of my biggest disappointments in Europe was running across a Burger King in Venice. I didn't go there for that. You will find tourist traps in Paris or London just as you will in San Francisco or New York City. You will find rude people in Munich or Rome just as you will in Los Angeles or Dallas.
But you will find people who will see you with a map and stop to help you find your way. You will find small neighborhood restaurants that have food to die for and out of the way pubs that make you feel at home. You will find open air markets with fresh fruit and fresh flowers and local cheeses.
You will marvel in the history and the people of Europe if you allow yourself to explore and experience.
Lots of people like to go with the flow, and it is good to stay flexible and keep an open mind, but many, like Claire above, and me, find travel peace with planning ahead. I start with Rick Steves, books from the library, and buy the Kindle versions to take along. Once I figure out a reasonable itinerary, I put it onto, of all things, a spreadsheet! I have columns for trip day, calendar date, Location, accommodations, things I would like to see and notes. Things that require tickets in advance (air travel, certain museums, etc.) are noted in red until I make the purchase. Sometimes, if there is a major sight that would be better with professionals, I book tours (like the Vatican and Ancient Rome), and put the contact information and booking number on the spreadsheet. I also make a notebook with everything I do, including copies of our travel insurance, airplane e-tickets, hotel reservations, transfers, tour vouchers -- basically, all the paperwork. Before we go I put the necessary papers into a theme binder in the order in which I will need them. The spreadsheet is at the front. For me it is great to look at the spreadsheet, know what day it is, and where I am supposed to be, and it takes a lot of stress out of travel. I have all the important documents I need when I need them. I have great peace of mind knowing that I not forgotten anything.
Another thing that might interest you is something my daughter learned in college before a study tour. It is called the "W" of travel. Think of a graph in the shape of a W, that represents your emotions as you travel on trips of a week or longer. You start out feeling euphoric and happy, but jetlag sets in, something goes wrong, and all of a sudden you are grumpy, tired and lashing out at your travel partner. The trick is to recognize what is happening and deal with it before you kill each other. Have a "safe" word or phrase, like "Double W," "I'm at the bottom of the W" or "I really NEED to sit and have some tea." Take a deep breath, find a place to sit for a while, have a drink of water, snack or other beverage, or go back to your room for a little nap. You may need some alone time. After a little rest or cooling off, all will be well. Understand that it will happen to both of you, and probably at different times. Agree in advance to be kind and compassionate to one another when it happens. It is tougher when it happens at the same time. Just take a time out! The good news is that it only happens twice (hence the W)!
Hope you have a wonderful trip.
Don't fell nervous.just go ahead..GOD bless you.
Some of the best times happen when you are lost and trying to find your way. If you. Any speak the language just point and do your best. There is usually someone around who will help. We tend to eat at bars or cheap places and make it all an adventure.
Totally agree on having a positive attitude when getting lost, esp when one is taking public transportation. No need to stress, be in a panic when you are lost in Western and Central Europe. Besides, who hasn't gotten lost in going in the wrong direction, eg going north instead of west, etc. or veering off the wrong block? Look upon the experience as an adventure helps staying calm and relaxed.
There are 2 of you. Together, you will figure out whatever doesn't go according to plan. Just plan ahead the best you can and go. Some of our best times have been figuring out how to solve some problem that came up. Also, you are not going to a strange and unknown part of the world. Europe is easy to negotiate. I usually get nervous just before we leave, but it soon goes away. Have fun.