Monday, August 10, 2015

Europe Trip 2015 (pt. 2 - Preparations)

These are excerpts from my journal. On this trip we left SLC to Italy. We visited 5 cities in Italy, Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples, and Rome. We were there for 2 weeks. From Italy, we traveled to Paris, where we met up with my family. We stayed there for 10 days. Then we flew to NYC for 3 days, and then we flew back home to SLC.

It's crazy to think that in a month that we'll be leaving to Italy! I've been longing to visit Europe once more. I miss the cobble stone streets and the old houses and buildings, the public parks, the little shops, the food, the history, etc… This trip will much different than my mission. In many ways its much better!  On this trip, I'll get to travel with the one I love! I'm glad Summer, my wife is adventurous and up for anything. I know beforehand that this will be a long and exhausting vacation, but it will be worth it!

Preparations so far:
  • We purchased plane and train tickets ahead of time online:
    • We booked flights from SLC->MILAN, PARIS->NYC, and NYC-> SLC through Delta. We were able to book the entire flight for $1300 each.

    • We booked train tickets through trenitalia to get us from city to city within Italy. TrenItalia had a nice website, and you're able to print the tickets or just download them onto your smart phone as a PDF.

    • Flying is a cheap and quick way to travel in between countries in Europe. We flew from Rome to Paris for $60 a person using AirFrance. It was only 2 hours. The train would have been more expensive and it would have taken 8 hours.
  • We made reservations for our lodging through AirBnb. AirBnb is a online platform that allows for people to rent out a room in their apartment, or the whole apartment. There are many awesome benefits to this approach. You usually get a place that is a more local experience, and it is more affordable. Many times you can find a place that is closer to the center of town, and closer to the attractions that you want to visit. Also it all automated and it is completely safe. Book ahead, book ahead! Good deals book months in advance.
  • We purchased new suitcases.

    • We bought a large suitcase and a carry-on suitcase each. We measured the carry-on suitcases to make sure that they conformed to Delta and AirFrance's regulations. This was much harder than expected. Many "carry-on" suitcases were too large! I've read many horror stories online about flyers being forced to check-in their carry-on bags because they were 2 inches too tall, or they were only the proper size if you didn't measure the wheels. We made the extra effort just to be safe. 
    • Many suggest against big suitcases in Europe, especially because of the cobble stone streets.  I remember carrying a 50 lb suitcase 1.5 miles in 110 degree weather in Spain on mission. It sucked. My companion broke the wheels of his cheap suitcase on the merciless cobblestone streets. He was too small to carry it himself. But, we figured that we'd be in Europe for an entire month, we would need a lot of stuff. (There was probably a lot of stuff that we could have one without.) I am big enough to carry two large 29" suitcases that weigh 50lbs each without much trouble.
    • They also suggest from buying flashy suitcases because you become a target of thieves. We bought Samsonite suitcases at Ross. They weren't too flashy, they were durable, and they were fairly cheap. The big ones were about $80, and the little ones were about $50. I had two Samsonite  suitcases that lasted 2 years in Spain. My family still uses them to this day.
    • We thought about getting a collapsible luggage dolly. They have big wheels, and they reduce the stress put on your suitcases. But, this seemed like overkill, and they seemed like an unnecessary extra expenditure.
  • We got a money belt, and a money necklace.

    • These are to evade pick pockets, which are notorious in the crowded streets of Venice, and on the popular Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
    • This is considered to be the safest spot on you, unless you have a room with a lock and key. In between cities, when traveling with all of our stuff, we packed our passports, credit cards, and emergency money in here. On days where we were settled in a room and were just out to explore, we left our passports and the bulk of our money at home, and we carried about 100-250 euros with us in our money belt.
    • Since I wear undershirts, I found that the money necklace was the most comfortable and convenient.
  • We bought a new camera

    • Pictures are your best souvenir, and it doesn't cost you anything to take pictures.
    • After some research, we got the Sony Alpha 5100. It's a mirrorless camera; which is light and compact like a point-and-shoot and it has the quality of DSLR.
    • We felt as though we kinda broke the bank on this one ($600), but we were definitely satisfied with the quality. It does great with low light situations, which is ideal for Europe, with its many cathedrals and beautiful sunset and night scenes.
  • Neck pillows to make the flights and train rides more comfortable
On our way to Milan from SLC.

    • There's a lot of bad taboo with these; such as you look like a silly narcist, you should just have a friend take your pictures, you can't even get a good angle anyways.
    •  We were going to be visiting some of the most iconic historical buildings in the world, and we wanted to make sure that we were in our pictures.
    • We purchased a heavy duty DSLR selfie stick, that is able to handle cameras up to 8lbs. Luckily ours was only 8 ounces.

This isn't us... But, it was our goal to recreate this. We did. :)

  • Many blogs told us that we needed to dress fancy to "fit in with the locals." We read suggestions such as wear button-up shirts, scarves, dresses, never wear shorts, etc… This is true. If you're goal is to look like a local, then dress fancy. But, if you're going to visit a bunch of touristy areas, you'll encounter more tourists than locals. So you'll blend in more by dressing like a tourist! I just wore shorts, t-shirts, and vans most days.

  • I made printed copies of our travel itinerary, credit cards, and travel documents. We also backed up these documents on a USB flash drive.
  • Language skills
    • While many people speak English in Europe, not everyone speaks English. I knew Spanish and French before this trip, so learning Italian wasn't that hard. While learning the language wasn't as steep of a curve as learning my first Romantic language, the motivation was less. I learned Spanish because I was going to live in Spain for 2 years as a missionary, and I learned French because it's my mom's native tongue. I was learning Italian for entertainment and to communicate for a two week vacation.
  • Phone
    • We needed a phone, to contact our AirBnb hosts, and to connect with my family in Paris. 
    • We wanted to set up the phone and ensure that it worked in the states. We looked into Telestial, but their reviews were hit and miss. Many blogs suggested buying a phone while in Europe.
    • I use Virgin Mobile, which has no coverage in Europe. My wife had a ATT phone, which has coverage, but they don't have very good international rates.
    • We ended up going with T-Mobile's International Plan, which allowed us to use the phone everywhere that we were going to be traveling. It only cost $45 for one month, and we bought a cheap $30 Windows Lumia phone, which was surprisingly nice. They had good reviews, and they didn't let us down.


I can't believe we leave in a week! I'm stoked! I hope Summer feels better. She's been super sick for 6 weeks. We went to a specialist today who gave her 2 anti-biotics to combat the infections.

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