Two American Girls In Europe

March 30, 2017

Until about a month ago, my cousin/roommate Megan and I had never been to Europe. We had dreamed of planning a trip together, but something always seemed to come up or get in the way. Finally, we put our foot down. If we don’t go now, at 25 years old, when we have zero real responsibilities, when will we? So we booked our tickets, submitted our vacation requests and went for it.

After 10 days, we learned a lot (like even if you live together, you can still get separation anxiety when you return home) and feel well-equipped to take on another international adventure, whenever that time may come. But until then, I’ll share a few sprinklings of thought (“wisdom” feels too aggressive) from two twentysomethings who survived traveling overseas for the first time.

Book your plane tickets now. Figure out the rest later.

If you aren’t signed up for Scott’s Cheap Flights emails already, go do it now. I was tipped off by a fellow Pony, and I don’t think we would have even booked our Europe trip had it not been for the extra nudge we got from the crazy flight deals. As a result, Megan and I were able to snag round-trip, direct flights to Paris for under $425 a piece. The rest (accommodations, trains, etc.) we figured out months later.

Slow. Down. Save yourself the scolding/embarrassment.  
The first day we arrived, we were SO excited to start sprinting around Paris and checking off all the must-sees on our list. We sat down at the first cute café we saw, did our best to order a bottle of water in French, scarfed an incredible pizza and promptly, yet politely, asked for the check. Our waiter was a mixture of shocked and disgusted: “Pas de café?! Pas de dessert?!” We were mortified.

From then on we slowed the eff down to avoid further embarrassment. We took time to sip our coffee before we ordered our main course and rarely passed on dessert. And soon we realized our checklist didn’t matter – the rest of the trip became more about experiencing the views, restaurants, food and each other’s company.

When people talk about the amount of stairs, it is no exaggeration.

I’m an over-packer; I proudly admit that. I had two rolling suitcases, and all three of our Airbnbs required at least four flights of steep stairs — not even considering the nightmare that is lugging large luggage through the metro. Were we sweating as if we were at boot camp trying to get our belongings to our room? Yes. Did we have suitcases tumble down narrow stairways? Three times. Did we cause a scene doing all of these things? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t have removed a thing from my suitcase if I had to do it all over again, because #instagram, duh.

Despite what people warned us, the French were incredibly nice.

Ok, I’ll admit that was maybe because we were two young girls trying our best to speak French in awful American accents. However, every person we encountered was patient, helpful and kind to us — the complete opposite of everything I had heard in my foreign-language classes growing up or from others who had traveled and dealt with the “rude, irritable French.”

Something (or multiple things) will go wrong. And they’ll likely be the best memories from the trip.

Our best stories came from the worst occasions. The top 3 disasters of the trip:

  1. Nearly missing our train to London. We pressed snooze for two hours and woke up at 8 a.m. Final check-in for our train out of the country was 8:45 and we had to pack, hop 3 different trains and get through customs. Somehow we made it, but we were those people sprinting down the tracks straight out of a movie.
  2. Megan got pickpocketed on the metro by a women and her 10-year-old daughter. Her wallet was chucked back into the train car as the doors were closing, but much to our dismay, nothing was taken. Yeah, we’re not sure either.
  3. We went on the London Eye thinking my deathly fear of heights and Megan’s anxiety-attack-inducing claustrophobia wouldn’t be issues. We were wrong. We stared at the ground the entire time and considered pushing the emergency panic button at the top (it felt like a dire situation at the time). Worst part of the entire trip, by FAR.

Though your plans may be destroyed and crumbling, I promise you’ll laugh later. Or others will laugh at you via Snapchat. Either way, it’s worth the story.

International phone data plans are SO worth it.

I don’t care how much of a millennial I sound like by saying this: our trip would not have been nearly as smooth or fun had it not been for our data plan. At just around $10 a day — a steal for what we got out of it! — we were able use Google maps, look up nearby restaurants, explore areas without risk of getting lost in a foreign country… basically, it gave us another level of freedom and adventure abroad. Highly recommended.

Oh, and getting coffee to-go in Paris isn’t a thing. You’ve been warned.  

The biggest throw from our morning routine? No to-go cups. No one gave us a heads-up that this is simply not practiced in France, so I’m doing my civic duty here. We had visions of strolling the streets of Paris with a nice cup of coffee (also not a thing; Americano or bust), but the only option for that was at a Starbucks – and we were far too stubborn to look that American.