Travelers in Training: Lessons from Our First Time Abroad

January 09, 2018 2 Comments

Travelers in Training: Lessons from Our First Time Abroad

We sat down with two good friends, Danny and Michelle, who took their first international trip this past September.  They spent 2 weeks in Europe, had the time of their life, and learned so much along the way.  Read along as they talk about the packing mistakes they made, and how they will prepare differently for their next trip.  We are sharing their story so that if you are also preparing to leave for your first trip abroad, you can learn the valuable lessons they learned the hard way, before you ever leave home. There is something for everyone in here, and we hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did!

Intro’s & Where They Went

Traveling Tranquilo:  Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us and talk travel!  Let’s start with a bit of background.  What was your travel experience before this first trip abroad?

dressing up for oktoberfest in munich

Michelle: Thanks y’all! Happy to be here.  My travel experience growing up was mainly traveling up and down the east coast, because my family is in Pittsburgh.  Well, let’s put it this way, I didn’t fly on an airplane from when I was about 12 or 13 until I was 21.  And since then, I’ve visited Vegas and Hawaii.  So, not as much as I would want!

Danny: For me, most of my travel experience is centered around work, flying to cities for trade shows and meetings. The only real trip for fun I have taken was for Michelle and I’s honeymoon to Hawaii.  Oh, a couple of Caribbean Cruises.  Nothing too crazy.

Traveling Tranquilo:  Sounds like the two of you were on a similar footing experience wise before you started planning this first big trip abroad.  It’s nice to dive into these things together.   Since this was a big next step for both of you, what brought on the desire to spend 2 weeks abroad?  And how did you decide where to go?

Danny: The whole purpose of our trip was, we were finally debt free and wanted to celebrate with a baller trip.  Our original idea was to go to Germany and Belgium and do a beer tour.  I mean between these two countries, that’s pretty much the motherland of beer (a little background, Danny and Michelle are really into the craft beer scene in their hometown).   But, we fell out of love with that idea after a while.

Michelle: Ya, but Germany was always the first instinct, especially because of German heritage.  And I think after talking with y’all (us at Traveling Tranquilo) we decided to stick to Western Europe as we figured it would be a bit easier to manage, considering it was our first big trip abroad.  In my mind it was an easier first step out for us to take. So, then we decided if we were going to Germany, we were going to Oktoberfest. 

We actually aren’t sure how we picked the two other countries we visited; Switzerland and Italy.  All I remember is we were at Olde Meck (a local brewery, did we mention they like beer?) and we were looking at Instagram pictures on our phones and made the decision, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.  And each country would have a theme, Germany was beer, Switzerland was adventure, and Italy was relaxation.

What They Brought

Traveling Tranquilo:  We really like how each destination had a different theme to it, cool way to go about planning it.  Now that we have a good idea of you guys and your trip, walk us through your luggage situation, and what you brought.  You have this awesome trip all planned out, you prepare, pack your bags, and head out for your first long term international trip. What did you bring and how did it work out?

Michelle:  Let me start this off by saying, we made a huge mistake.  We each, EACH, took 60 pound rolling suitcases.

Traveling Tranquilo: 60 pounds, each of them, or together??

Michelle: Each!

Traveling Tranquilo: DANNNNNGGGGG

Danny: Ughhhhhhhh (groaning in the background)

Michelle: And I took a backpack (so did Danny), which was the one smart thing we did.  We used that during the day, walking around, and on our hike.  But, I took my computer, which I didn’t need.  I also took my iPad, complete unnecessary since I brought a computer.  I mean I took 60 pounds of stuff.  I took my curling iron, my straightener, my hair dryer, tennis shoes, sandals, flats, even a pair of shoes specifically for the one day we were at Oktoberfest.  This list goes on, just way too much.

Traveling Tranquilo: So you each have these 60 pound, 2 wheel roller suitcases, and you each have an additional backpack you are carrying.  What was it like for you getting around?

Danny: It suuuuucked. 

Michelle: It was the worst.  I mean, it was fine until we got to Munich.  We were able to leave the airport, get straight in a cab, and dropped off right outside our hotel.  It wasn’t until we had to transit from Munich to Switzerland - which door to door was 5 transfers between cabs, trains, and buses - that it really sucked.  We had to wheel around these 60 pound suitcases, and they were behind us because they were the two-wheeled type.  So, we couldn’t always keep a close eye on where our bags were relative to everyone else.  And there’s a million people on these busy train platforms, so some German lady tripped over my suitcase and almost took me down with her.  Having to worry about these stupid bags the whole time was not fun, at all.

Danny: Our luggage was too awkwardly shaped and too large to fit overhead or under our seat on any of the trains or flights we took.  So, we were always separated from our luggage, which was unsettling for us being first time travelers.  You always hear horror stories of people’s luggage getting stolen, and it was tough not being able to have our eyes on our bags during those travel days.

Michelle:  And then in Cinque Terre, we were lucky enough to get a ride from the train station to our AirBnb.  But when it was time to leave, we had to drag these things down a cobblestone street.  I mean we were literally staying on the side of a mountain, and had to walk down it, our bags in tow.   Wheels and cobblestone, not a good mix at all.  Then we made our way through Old Town Monterosso, people staring at the parade of luggage and noise, it was awful.

dragging luggage down cobblestone streets in cinque terre, italy
Danny dragging the infamous bags down cobblestone streets

Danny:  And then we get to Florence with these stupid things, get off the train, and had to walk at most a mile to our AirBnb.  Not a big deal we thought.  But it was through downtown Florence, and the sidewalks were packed.  I felt so out of place, and awkward, I was in everybody’s way, it was so annoying to deal with.

Michelle: And what’s worse, is when we finally got to our AirBnb, we were on the fourth floor and of course there were no elevators.  After all of that, we were so fed up with our bags, that we threw them in the trash when we finally got back home. 

How They Prepared and Packed

Traveling Tranquilo: That’s awesome.  Just so poetic.  Those bags gave you such a hard time that you got rid of them when you got home.  Its hard not to laugh, but it’s a lesson learned the hard way.  Overpacking and the negative experiences that go along with it, is something every traveler learns at some point.  It’s almost a right of passage.  Thank you both for opening up, sharing, and laughing about that experience.  We are sure you weren’t laughing as those suitcases were clanking around in the cobblestone streets of Italy.  With so much luggage, and space for stuff, how did you decide what to bring?  What research or planning did you do in terms of what to prepare and pack?

Michelle:  Since we were going all out for Oktoberfest, in my mind the only thing we really researched was what to wear for that.  We had the full traditional wear, down to the shoes.  Otherwise, we researched the average weather in each city for that time of the year.  And from there it was, what am I going to be comfortable in?  I love yoga pants, so I made sure to bring some. 

Danny:  For me, I brought the typical things I wear every day; jeans, shirts, shorts, shoes, that kind of stuff.  But I brought too much of all of them.  It was tough to decide what to bring because of how different the weather was supposed to be at each of our destinations.  In Cinque Terre it was warm and sunny, and in Switzerland the forecast was cold and rainy.  Packing for that proved challenging.  So, I think I researched enough ahead of time, I just brought way too much of everything.

enjoying a peroni beer in florence, italyneuschwanstein castle in bavaria, germanyhiking the alps in switzerland

Lessons for Next Time

Traveling Tranquilo:  Totally understand that.  Packing for different weather and climates on one trip is so hard to do.  Just even preparing and packing in general is a learning process that you can tweak and refine for each subsequent trip.  Now that you have one trip under your belt, what would you do differently preparing and packing wise for your next trip?

Danny:  I mean, I brought 60 pounds of stuff, so first thing would be to bring way less.  Also, I realized I didn’t need to bring so many dressy clothes.  I guess I had this impression I had to dress nice in Europe, but once I was there, you could literally wear whatever you wanted, and it didn’t matter. No one cared what I was wearing.  It made me realize I could bring way less, especially the nicer, dressier clothes I brought. I would also want to bring those packing cubes I see you guys posting about (we might be on to something?).  I was always rolling and unrolling my clothes, and then I just throw them into this cavernous space of my huge suitcase; it was impossible to keep anything organized.  No method to that madness.

biking next to sheep in switzerland

Michelle:  Like what Danny was saying, where we are from, it’s the norm to be fully dressed; hair, makeup, everywhere you go.  So, I took that idea with me and figured that’s how it would be where we were going.  I think if I could have done it differently, I would have taken a step back and realized I didn’t need all that and could get by in yoga pants or something similar most of the time.  I mean, I ended up wearing the same pair of yoga pants, sports bra, long sleeve shirt, and vest all 4 days we were in Switzerland.  Pretty much everything else I brought was unnecessary.  Not only that, I would have taken a different bag obviously.  I’m not sure if a backpacking style bag would be best for me, but something that was carryon sized which would force me to bring less.  And more importantly, much easier for me to carry around.

Traveling Tranquilo:  We love packing cubes!  And sometimes you have to overpack in order to determine what you actually need.  From your experience you learn, and then you can figure out what to bring next time, what to leave at home.  You need to go through that learning process to figure out what works for you.  Moving a bit away from the preparing and packing part of your trip, we believe that travel is transformative, and that can take shape in different ways.  From your trip, what was a lesson or favorite experience that stuck with you?

Michelle:  My favorite part by far was Switzerland.  I seriously left my heart in Switzerland.  And my favorite memory from our time there was the day we hiked up this mountain.  The views the entire way up were incredible, it was so hard not to stop every 5 minutes and take another picture.  We made it all the way up, and had a celebratory beer at the top!

Danny:  I think for me what was interesting is I went into the trip expecting to like Germany the best.  But, I ended up enjoying our time in Switzerland the most, which took me by surprise.  What I learned from that experience is we both love outdoor based activities, which is pretty much all we did during our time in Switzerland.  It was great learning that insight about us and what we enjoy while traveling, which also helps us keep the focus of future trips on that sort of experience. 

Michelle:  I also learned that I don’t need as much as I think I do.  I think it all started with my luggage, which was exhausting, but it was also more than that.  Just in terms of all the comforts from home that you are used to, I mean we stayed in this super small hostel, slept in separate beds, and it was totally fine!

Closing Thoughts

Traveling Tranquilo:  Isn’t it funny how that works?  You try to pack and bring comforts from home as you venture out into unknown areas on your travels.  And then you get there and realize, you don’t even need that stuff, it doesn’t necessarily add comfort.  The comfort can’t come from items you bring along, but must come as self-confidence from within.  Now that you have learned all of these lessons, where to next?

Danny:  We have two ideas that we are tossing around together.  The first is going to Iceland and Norway, and doing a bunch of hiking and other amazing outdoor stuff.  Would love to see the Northern Lights!

Michelle:  The other idea we are considering is going down to Chile and Patagonia.  Looks amazing down there and a great place for an adventure!

Traveling Tranquilo: Take me with you! Both of those sound amazing, and great places for an adventure.

Thanks again for taking the time to sit down and talk travel with us today.  You both learned so many valuable lessons from your adventure, especially on the pains of overpacking that all new travelers are susceptible to.  We hope that by sharing your experience, along with the products we have available, we can help others who find themselves in a similar situation to avoid a similar struggle.  Everyone goes through these growing pains as they become more experienced travelers, and our goal is to provide the products and resources to help travelers prepare and pack in the best way possible. Keep us posted on your future travel plans, and lets plan a part two!

Traveling Tranquilo Recap: The most useful takeaways for new travelers who are preparing and packing for a trip to Europe:

  1. Try your best not to overpack. To do so, pack and repack multiple times, removing more and more of what you want to bring each time. 
  2. Remember, you can always do laundry!
  3. Dragging around rolling/wheeled luggage is awful in Europe. Sidewalks are super crowded, and often cobblestone.  Something you can wear as a backpack goes a long way.
  4. Be sure to research the weather at your destination and plan accordingly.
  5. You won’t need all the comforts you rely on at home while traveling.

sitting by a lake in switzerland

2 Responses

Traveling Tranquilo
Traveling Tranquilo

January 10, 2018

@TheLoveOfMonday – Glad you enjoyed reading along! I think we all have a story of bringing along too much, or stuff we didn’t need; its fun to look back on it all and laugh. Live and learn is right!


January 10, 2018

So cool to read along with their journey and the lessons they learned. It made me think of my sister’s first time living abroad, and she somehow thought it was a good idea to pack her rollerblades for life in Ireland, ha. Live and learn — it’s all part of the fun!

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