When you picture traveling, you usually picture an amazing vacation with loved ones. Sightseeing, relaxing, lots of photo ops, and delicious eats- not misadventures, missed reservations, crowds, and missing some landmarks that were must-sees on your travel bucket list. I am not writing this article to discourage any of you from traveling- I just want to make sure your trip runs smoothly and you have the best time you can possibly have!
1. Check, double-check, and triple-check your reservations.
This goes for all reservations: hotels, trains, planes, rental cars, and guided tours.
We arrived in Amsterdam and we were only supposed to stay for one day and then take the high speed train to Paris. Due to my overconfidence in my meticulous travel plans, I realized far too late that I did not in fact reserve our seats on the train for the day we were supposed to travel. I had only purchased the Eurail passes. The passes alone do not guarantee your seat on the train, the reservations must be arranged IN ADDITION TO buying the Eurail passes.
This one mistake created a snowball effect and changed the travel plans for our entire trip. Luckily, I was able to get us tickets for the train to Paris for the following morning. However, we now had no hotel to stay in for our extra night in Amsterdam. So instead of going out to discover more neat things in the city, we were aimlessly walking around trying to find a hotel that a) we could afford, b) that wasn’t too shady, and c) that actually had availability last minute during high season.
Long story short…. after walking around to several hotels/hostels we wound up in a shady place that we could afford. And when I say shady, I mean shady. As we ascended in the snail-like elevator to our floor, you could hear gears grinding that sounded like nails on a chalkboard. I really thought a cable was going to snap and send the elevator on a downward plunge that would lead us to our untimely deaths…and all before we ever made it to Paris. The stairs weren’t much better either. They were littered with trash, vomit, and other sticky substances that we probably just don’t want to know about. Luckily, this was only for one night.
I must also mention that since we missed the first night in Paris, we essentially paid for a night in the hotel that we never got to use. We also were planning on a side trip to Lourdes, which is in Southern France; but we had to cancel that to make up for lost time in Paris. Again, another night in a hotel that we paid for, but did not get to use.
This is not to stay we had a bad trip, in fact it was amazing. I’m actually very grateful that we stayed an additional day in Paris because there was so much to see there. This was the best trip I’ve ever had, it’s just that we spent a little more money than we needed to because of the confused agenda.
2. The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Getting up early is very important, especially due to the long Disney World-like lines that will await you at all major tourist attractions. I would advise that you arrive at least an hour before opening time at your attraction of choice because the lines are truly long. We waited an hour and a half to get in to the Catacombs in Paris and it was terribly windy and cold. By the time we reached the entrance, it looked as if the line had almost doubled since we arrived.
On a different day, we went to the Eiffel Tower, late in the afternoon. We actually just got to look around the outside, we didn’t go up into the tower because of the wait. It would have been about three hours in line.
If you have the extra cash, I would recommend purchasing Skip the Line tickets for the tourist sites in Europe. They are available for most of the attractions in Paris and Amsterdam.
3. Know How to Manage Your Time
I thought I had it all figured out upon arriving in Europe. I planned on us seeing four to five landmarks and sites per day. In reality, I would plan on seeing three, tops. First of all, you have to factor in how long in will take to get from your hotel to the first site, from the first site to the second site, and so on. Second, you need to add in time to eat and you will also probably want to relax a little. Stop and smell the roses! If you keep rushing to get to the next place, you will probably miss something amazing along the way. Third, you will probably be sore from walking, tired from your flight, and your sleep schedule will be different due to the time difference. Don’t burn yourself out! Just see what you can, take in the scenery, and remember it doesn’t have to be a race. Make a list of must-see places and make sure you see those. Make a second list of things you’d like to see, but wouldn’t die if you didn’t. If you have time after your must-sees, then you can work on that secondary list. Just have fun!