Some Wilson family advice for traveling

Take these points of advice with a grain of salt: 1) We are not as well-traveled as some people we know. 2) We can speak only of travel within Europe, and not necessarily in other parts of the world. 3) We are US; not YOU. Our ideal vacation might very well look different than yours. BUT, since we are taking a year to live abroad and explore, we thought we might share some of what we have learned.

To save money…

When we first moved into our apartment we had to pay a security deposit as well as first and last month’s rent. So Daniel had to do like 5 separate transactions at an ATM to pull out that much money. At this point in time, Moldovan money still felt like monopoly money to us.
  • Get a Charles Schwab debit card
    • These are the best! I used to feel like I had to withdraw all the money I needed at once in order to avoid excessive fees, but then I would find myself walking around with an absurd wad of cash. It’s nice to be able to pull out whatever you need from whichever ATM and to know that you won’t end up paying for the fees. Also, some cities perform more cash transactions than card transactions. For example, we were surprised to find that many of the restaurants we visited in Munich accepted cash only.
  • Don’t be afraid of budget hotels
    • I have to credit Daniel for introducing me to this. I thought budget hotels were sketchy, and in the US they might be. In Europe, though, we have found them to be clean, no-frills accommodations. Sometimes it’s nice to splurge on a fancy hotel, but other times we can use the money saved from our hotel reservation on restaurants or other excursions. I will warn you that the rooms are small, and sometimes the mattresses have a little bit of a dip in the middle, but for us it has been worth it.
  • Search European airlines using the language/currency of that country
    • Daniel is the master at this, and of course, it is much easier for him because he speaks Romanian. But from what he has told me, there can be a significant price difference (like $50+ per ticket) if you can manage to search in local currency and language.
  • Get airport lounge access
    • We already wrote a post about our “imposter syndrome” experience in airport lounges. I know lounge access is actually an upfront cost, but I think it ends up paying for itself. We have saved A LOT on food and beverages by eating in the lounges. We also, simply, enjoy our travel days so much more; they have been a game changer for the quality of our trips.
    • So how do I access these magical lounges, you ask? We have a Priority Pass card as one of the perks of our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. [DISCLAIMER: there is a $525 annual fee for us with this card] But we have found that the perks outweigh that cost. If you were to purchase the same Priority Pass card straight from the company, the fee is $429 per person. I’ll let you do that math…
A latte and chocolate mousse in the lounge at the Munich airport

To get the most out of a place…

  • Stay there for at least 3 nights
    • As Americans, we shell out a ton of money and slog our way through a trans-Atlantic flight to get to Europe. So when we get here we want to see EVERYTHING, right? Daniel and I have certainly fallen prey to this mentality. But when we take lightening trips where we are in and out of cities like it’s nobody’ business, we end up leaving dissatisfied.
    • This is my logic: The first day is always a partial day where you are tired from travel and still trying to figure out where the heck anything is in this new place. Day #2 can be an exploration or excursion day, which leaves Day #3 for hitting those cool new spots you discovered on Day #2. Let’s be clear…pretty much anywhere everywhere has plenty of fun, interesting, beautiful, things to do for two days.
  • Try a walking tour on your first day
    • What to do with Day #2 you ask? Perhaps this next piece of advice makes Daniel and I sound waaaay older than we are….but walking tours are the best!! Believe me, I used to firmly be in the camp of “tours of cities are lame. I am a human with two legs and a decent brain so I am clearly capable of exploring a city on my own.” And I am, but my explorations are limited.
    • For example, years ago we visited Daniel’s family in NYC and did one of those open top bus tours. It was amazing because NYC is enormous and for all the trips before I was constantly confused on where anything was (including the cardinal direction north). The bus tour connected the dots for me and gave me a reasonably-priced, almost birds-eye view of the city.
    • And you probably already know all the good things I had to say about our Thirsty Historian tour in Munich…
  • Travel with different friends
    • Which, in fact, brings me to our next point. I mentioned in the last blog post that we never would have done the tour in Munich if our friends hadn’t picked it out and planned it. When we travel with other people, we get to experience some of the things that they love, and maybe we find out that we love it too. At the very least, we try something new and spend some great time bonding with friends. But it’s even more likely that we discover a part of the city we never would have on our own.
    • For example, take our trip to England in December/January. I think the sole request of my friend Ayesha was to do a high tea. If it were just me and Daniel, I would have convinced him of the following: we drink tea at home all the time and we are seeing British friends in April who can probably make us a legit tea themselves, so why spend the extra money on a tea in London?? If it truly were just me and Daniel, I would have been pushy and he would have given in. But throw Ayesha into the mix, and suddenly we find ourselves thoroughly enjoying an amazing experience together in London

Truly, I don’t know if I vacation well on my own. I get stuck in a rut of the way I think the days should go. Daniel has helped me to question some of those assumptions. With him I think I travel much better. And with my friends?…even more so. So all that to say, anyone who wants to put our travel advice into practice and come visit us over here is more than welcome!!!