When the opportunity arose to join Chris on a business trip to Poland, we turned it in to a chance to finally visit Europe together — something we’ve wanted to do for quite some time. We flew from Boston to Paris, then spent 3 days in Wroclaw (pronounced “Vrohts-wahf”) as Chris had a number of business meetings. Then we had a quick visit to Prague before flying back home.
While I’ve traveled out of US before (to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and a slew of islands via cruises), our first visit to Europe felt much different.
Now that we’re back home, I feel like I learned a ton in just 6 short days. So, I wanted to share 5 of the main things I learned on this trip in case it could be helpful to someone traveling overseas in the future.
1. Dress accordingly. Obviously traveling in the winter meant bringing a bunch of different layers, but no matter the time of year make sure you bring plenty of options. (Note: Uniqlo’s Heat Tech under layer options are currently some of my favorites!) And while it didn’t really impact us where we were traveling in Poland and the Czech Republic, it’s important to research what is considered respectful clothing in the area(s) your traveling if religion is prominent there.
If you’ll be doing any walking at all, wear flats! Even on the nights we just grabbed dinner, the uneven cobblestone surfaces and wet streets made flat boots a must. I brought 2 pairs of block heeled boots in addition to my flats, but the few times I wore them I kept finding myself thinking “I’d be happier in my flat boots.” When I wear heels to the airport I always pack flats in my carry on.
I bought these Strummer boots in NYC in the fall and they’ve been a perfect travel companion. Warm leather with a rubber sole kept me comfortable and warm no matter the weather.
I also wore a lot of hats, which not only helped keep me warm, meant I didn’t have to think as much about keeping my hair from looking less than ideal in the many weather conditions we encountered. I love the color options of this beret, the fun factor of this fisherman cap, and the coziness of this knit hat.
2. Download a translator app. We used iTranslate as well as duolingo a little beforehand, but there are a ton of options. While you’ll find most people to understand at least a few words of basic English, it’s just a good idea to learn a few words of the native language for the place you’re visiting. While we could in no way full communicate in Polish, at the very least it opened many people up to conversations and gave them a smile as they helped us better say whatever word we were trying to say.
3. Learn their culture. This is obviously something that can’t be done quickly, but with a little research beforehand you can learn quite a bit.
We were lucky to have acquaintances in Poland, and it’s amazing how much they taught us in only a few days. Everything from what the heck to order off the menu at the very Polish restaurant they met us at, to how different their workday schedules are. Chris and I had noticed that there were rarely people in restaurants over the lunch hours — even the highest rated ones online. We later learned that’s because many of their workdays are laid our much differently than we’re used to.
Research how (or if) they customarily tip, if they hug or shake hands when meeting, and scan their news headlines for current events.
4) Understand getting around. Obviously Google Maps or Waze will help a ton, but often the internet is slow or delayed. Have a basic understanding of where your hotel is located, and maybe where a few of the larger streets or businesses are in relation to where you’re staying.
In Wroclaw our hotel was right by a giant mall, so that always helped to orient us.
Also, before crossing the street make sure you understand what the crosswalk signs mean. We’re used to being able to cross all the way across both lanes of traffic when a walk sign flashes. In Wroclaw you have 3 different signs to reference in order to cross (2 lanes of traffic as well as a train). Chris *almost* got hit by a train TWO times this trip!!
Before you travel, notify your bank so your cards work and your cell company so your phone works. Nothing worse than dealing with this after you land!
5) It’s all part of the adventure. You’ll forget some key items, and some things won’t go as planned: and that’s ok. It’ll probably make a better story later anyway.
We forgot universal electric adapters, so when we asked our hotel where we could buy them we learned we could borrow theirs. When she asked if we needed one or two and we responded with “uhh, actually five.” the surprised look on her face was priceless. Regardless, she gave us five.
And when we learned the quickest way to get from Wroclaw, Poland to Prague was a 4 hour bus ride, we never imagined it would include going through a giant snow storm (that dumped 2-3 feet of snow) both directions!
All of these experiences taught us so much, make for fantastic stories for our kids, and best of all, make us excited for our next adventures.