Now, I'm sure no one wants to hear all of the funny stories that won't be nearly as amusing to others as it was to us. So, instead, I am going to offer up some advice and tips about traveling abroad. Things that I had to learn the hard way first hand.
First I'll begin with the basic story. Last summer, my brother had an opportunity to visit friends of his in Belgium. He was ecstatic and I was extremely jealous. After all, he was two years younger than me and traveling abroad, completely unfair! After pouting a while, my husband suggested that I go with him to keep him company the days he was venturing off from his friends and traveling alone to Paris and London. I nearly came out of my skin when he offered this to me and I, of course, immediately accepted. Since traveling is very expensive, my husband was not be able to accompany me but it was just as well since my brother and I are best friends. So the plans were made, dates set, and tickets bought. In July, I flew to Paris by myself to meet my younger brother for a week and a half of European adventures!
Our plan was to meet outside my gate in the airport.
So here comes my first piece of advice: have a back up plan when meeting somewhere. When my plane came in late, I expected him to be waiting on me but he was not. After waiting for nearly 20 minutes, I decided to walk around a little to find him. It was only by the grace of God that we found each other at another gate, each searching for the other.
Since my flight was early in the day, we were able to drop our luggage off at our hotel and see the sights. So, another bit of advice, spread out the sight seeing! In one afternoon, despite my exhaustion from jet lag, my brother and I saw every major sight in Paris! How we did it, I'm still not sure. We calculated we walked nearly 18 miles that day, and that is no exaggeration. I had so many blisters.
Which leads me to this note: wear comfortable shoes.
I know, I know, everyone says that. But how many people actually listen? Not me. I am a firm believer that comfort takes a back seat to fashion. However, when walking the streets of Paris, my tune changed very quickly. I ended up wearing my very unfashionable tennis shoes with every outfit I brought for the rest of the trip. I wished I had invested in a pair of comfy yet cute shoes. So ladies, do not make my same mistake!
After just two days, my brother and I were very tired of Paris. We had seen everything we had planned on visiting and we were very tired of the rude people. Yes, it is true, Parisians are lovely people but not very friendly or helpful towards American tourists. We did meet a few wonderfully helpful souls but they were few and far between. When we met another American tourist from Georgia, we nearly hugged and kissed her because she was so friendly. It is especially a shock when you are from the south, like us, because everyone is extremely friendly. So, traveling tip: plan ahead but don't stick rigidly to those plans. I am a big planner, at 22 I already have my life planned out for the next thirty years. So, when it came to this trip, I had every minute detail planned out in advance. Not liking Paris threw a wrench in plans however and I was at a loss of what to do. My brother had a solution, head back to Belgium to stay with his friends. I was a little reluctant at first, after all I hardly knew these people. But he convinced me and in an hour, we were on a train to Brussels. Best decision ever because I quickly fell in love with Belgium and did not want to leave! So be flexible or you will miss out on some wonderful places and adventures.
After a couple of fun filled days with my brother’s friends in Belgium, it was off to London for us. So, advice: if you are claustrophobic like my brother, do not take the train that goes under the English Channel. I sleep very easily, so on every train ride, I would usually sleep the whole trip. My brother, however, never could. I got woken up while we were under the English Channel by a very panic stricken brother. He claimed he couldn’t breathe and that he was about to have a heart attack. Still sleepy, it took me a minute to comprehend what was going on. He kept saying there were tons and tons of water above us and no where to escape if the tunnel were to collapse. Thankfully, I’m generally a logical person so he didn’t really freak me out with his talk but I was concerned about getting him calmed down. Of course, I was extremely sleepy as well so I was wanting him to calm down immediately so I could snooze some more. I instructed him to lean back in his seat, close his eyes, and listen to some Kenny G on his Ipod. Thinking I’d helped all I could, I turned back in my seat and went back to sleep. I asked later how he did the rest of the time we were under water and he said he was okay, that we were really only under there for about 15 minutes or so. I guess I should have stayed up with him to make sure he was okay, but he survived.
Next on my list of advice, know the cities’ suburbs.
Online, everything looks the same…not so in person. London is a very expensive place to visit and my budget was $100 a night for a hotel. Unfortunately, the pound is worth two American dollars so it would be like trying to find a hotel in downtown Dallas for $50. I wouldn’t recommend it! I did manage to find a hotel in a London suburb, Peckham, that was reasonably priced and not far from downtown London. It was pretty much our only option so I jumped on it. When we were in British customs, an officer there asked where we were headed and I told her Peckham Lodge in Peckham. She nearly came out of her seat when she found out we were going there for vacation. She immediately started cracking jokes to the other officers around her. One of them said to us that it was the Harlem of London!! That is not what I wanted to hear! It ended up not being quite as bad as they made out, but I still wasn’t very comfortable staying there
We were only in Paris for two days and mastered the metro system. We were pretty cocky about this achievement and were certain that London’s transportation would be a breeze. It was insanely confusing!! And there were even helpful people who spoke English trying to point us in the right direction. After spending nearly three hours roaming the streets trying to find our connecting tube, we finally decided to take a bus. ;So, know your cities’ transportation before getting there! It will make life a whole lot easier. Even though the bus took twice as long, it was really easy to figure out.
My last bit of advice is to choose your travel buddy wisely.
As I said before, my brother and I are best friends. We grew up playing together and now, as adults, spend a great deal of time together. However, I do not believe I will ever travel with him again. When I went last year, I was a newly wed and extremely used to the pampering attention my husband devoted to me. My brother was not nearly as loving or kind. By the end of the trip, we were at each other’s throats constantly. We spent way too much time together and everything he did got on my nerves. In a way, it bonded us like never before, but I was pretty close to hating him by the time I left for home. If you are married, travel with your spouse because you won’t be happy without him/her. If you are single, choose your friend wisely and do not go with someone you can hardly stand to spend a whole day with.
I would not trade my adventures in Europe for anything in the world!! I loved every minute of it, the good and the bad. I truly cherish the memories I made there. I am very eager to go back very soon. My husband has promised to take me to Rome for a graduation present. I truly hope to make that dream come to reality very soon!!
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