Need advice on 1st international vacation

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cherijoh
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by cherijoh » Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:58 am

ugaDAWGS09 wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 3:30 pm
My wife and I are looking to plan our first international trip. We are looking for a 7-10 day vacation in a safe area where English will be commonly spoken. I guess the first place that comes to mind is London, but we are really considering several options such as Rome/Florence/Venice, Cape Town South Africa, New Zealand, Paris, Japan. I know some of these aren't English speaking countries but would be nice if we could at least order food, get directions, etc. without too much of a hassle.

We are both early 30s and love to sight-see, explore the local culture, and find nice places to eat. We would probably be going in the Spring or Summer of next year. Another issue is flight time. The farthest we have ever flown was Maui and that was a long flight from the east coast, and I know some of these locations are way further.

Any recommendations? We are really open to any location.
I would rule out South Africa, New Zealand, and Japan from consideration. They are really too far to travel for the amount of time you have available. Japan is also super expensive.

I think you'll enjoy yourself more if you don't try and do one of the "sampler" bus tours which hit 5 countries in 8 days. Even 5 cities in the same country can be exhausting if you have to be packed with your bags outside the door before breakfast.

I have done several vacations in the UK. You could do London and then a loop up to Yorkshire, across the moors, the Lake District, down to Bath, Oxford, and/or Cambridge. A friend and I flew into Gatwick, stayed several days in London then went back to Gatwick and rented a car. (That was an adventure in itself :happy). You could also get a BritRail Pass and hit some of the cities as day or overnight trips. Or hit London and Edinburgh or London & Dublin in the time you have allotted.

I did do a bus tour in Ireland through CIE which included 2 stays at B&Bs. I'm not a super fan of bus tours, but we were a group of 6 and i was the only one would have been willing to drive in that group (which I wasn't willing to do since the scenery is such an important part of an Ireland tour. After experiencing the Ring of Kerry, I was definitely thankful that I hadn't taken on the driving! :shock: This is the itinerary closest to the tour we took - it looks like they eliminated the B&Bs.

I have also taken a couple of walking tours in England using Wayfarers and Country Walkers. I have done group tours with both tour companies, but Country Walkers has started offering Self-Guided tours where they provide 24/7 local support, luggage transfers, and all the detailed maps you need. I did a Cotswold walk with Wayfarer's which was walk from Inn to Inn and the Cornish Coastal tour with Country Walkers - we did day hikes from 2 different locations. England is rather unique with its public footpaths. With the exception of one of the Cotswold villages that was part of a bus tour route, we rarely saw any other tourists. We were eating lunch and in local pubs and dinner in nice local restaurants. Accommodations were local inns and B&Bs. I really enjoyed these tours and have done several others in the US and Canada.
Last edited by cherijoh on Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.

straws46
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by straws46 » Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:17 am

With long trips comes a huge time difference. Adjusting to a 12 to 15 hour time difference both coming and going isn't justified by the 7 to 10 days you are allotting to this trip so Asia/Australia might be out. For a first trip you can't go wrong with Ireland/England. London is worth 7-10 days in itself, but to shorten the flight you could start in Dublin for a couple days. Flights to London from Ireland are very inexpensive, or you can take the ferry to Wales and get the train to London to see a little more scenery and have a different travel experience. If you get tired of London or just want to go more places, the Eurostar can get you to Paris in short order. Check out The Man in Seat 61 for how to use trains all over the world.

Get local money when you arrive at an airport ATM (we use Schwab card and they reimburse all fees). Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. If you go to more exotic locations check to see what vaccinations are recommended. Bon voyage wherever go go.

cherijoh
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by cherijoh » Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:34 am

killjoy2012 wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 6:29 pm
We (Americans) are very fortunate that our native language also happens to be the default global common language. As others have said, any major city or tourist area in Western Europe will be easy from a language perspective. I love London, and the UK would be the easiest of them all, but I think you'll find minimal language issues anywhere in W. Europe. My first trip outside of N. America was to Greece, and even though that has probably been the hardest place in Europe in my travel experiences language-wise, I'd still rate it a 3 out of 10 with 10 being hardest.

Asia, Africa and such would be a more difficult trip in many facets. Egypt was the one destination I was extremely glad we had a tour guide, and looking back, there's no chance that English alone would've sufficed.

And it's always a good idea to learn the basic words of the local, native language before traveling there - Yes/No, Please/Thank You, Hello / Goodbye, etc.
I have had good luck with a Berlitz phrase book and CD when traveling to countries where I didn't know the language. I practice with the CD at home and then take the phrase book with me.The other phrase I would recommend learning in the primary language of any country I was visiting is: "I don't speak ..., do you speak English?"

If you do decide to visit Paris, you should know that it is customary to great the shopkeeper of any small shop that you enter when you enter it. The French consider it rude to wait until you are ready to purchase something and Parisians in particular will often pretend not to speak English if you walk up to the cashier and ask "How much is this?" in English. And please refrain from asking "Hpw much is this in real money?" Yes, I did overhear this from an American tourist once :oops: For times like those I practice using "oot" and "aboot" and pretend to be from Canada. :wink:

delamer
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by delamer » Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:40 am

ugaDAWGS09 wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:21 am
jodydavis wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 4:22 pm
For a first international vacation, I echo the other folks who say western europe would be a good option. The tourist infrastructure is well-developed, and pretty much all of the major areas will have people who speak English, so it will be easy to get around. And the culture and food are fantastic and sufficiently different from the U.S. that it will be interesting and new. In terms of specifics, it all depends on what you are most interested in:

1. U.K. would be the easiest. London, the English countryside, Ireland, Scotland, etc. Language obviously not a problem. Lots of interesting sights to see, but not as different as some other parts of Europe.

2. France could be a nice option, e.g. Paris and other nearby areas (e.g. Loire, Normandy, etc.). Culture a bit more different than the U.K., but still lots of english spoken at the tourist areas. Food is amazing, as is the culture. Would feel a bit more "different" than the U.K.

3. Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, etc. - plenty of english spoken, interesting culture, although I'd probably suggest U.K./France as a better first visit.

4. Italy, Spain, etc. - a bit less english spoken, but still no problem getting around in the tourist areas. Slightly longer flight, but food and culture obviously amazing.

I would avoid Japan/China/Asia (other than perhaps Hong Kong/Singapore) if you are worried about the language, as it is a bit more difficult to get around (though still not really a problem, as there is a lot of tourism). Also, if you are not experienced with long flights, I'd avoid S. Africa, New Zealand, Australia, as those are really, really long flights.

Good luck!
J.D.
Thanks, Western Europe seems to be the popular choice. I really need to start researching and see how many days we would like to spend in each area of the country. I would love to have enough time off to see Ireland and also visit London, but just not sure yet how much time we can get off work.

If you plan on regular international travel — like a trip every year or two — then sticking with London and environs makes sense. You’ll have the chance to see Ireland in another trip. If you expect to be traveling infrequently, then do several days in London and a few in Dublin so you get to see both.

The Rick Steves books are good, as are the Fodors and Frommers websites.

Frommers gives you itineraries depending on how much time you have in an area: https://www.frommers.com/destinations/l ... tineraries

palaheel
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by palaheel » Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:13 am

I would decide three or four topics--history, art, natural history, etc, and keep those ideas in mind while making decisions. Most major cities will have day tours that you can book when you arrive. Those are good for things just a bit out of town, like Versailles. We would always take a "stay on the bus while being driven around with a narration" tour to get acquainted with a new city.

You might also consider your heritage. My wife is second generation Welsh, and driving into the county in Wales that had "her name" was quite an experience.

Spend some time outside a major city. London is my favorite city anywhere, but in Britain, I'd suggest a couple of days in Stratford-upon-Avon, York, Oxford or Canterbury. It's also a lot cheaper.

Stay in a bed and breakfast, or some place where you can meet the locals. One of our favorite memories of Edinburgh is staying up till 3am swapping politically incorrect jokes with a couple of long-term residents of our boarding house.

I think the off-peak season for travel is a very good idea.

If you're going travel on your own (not a tour group), pack light. Be able to grab all your stuff and run a quarter of a mile to catch a train.

I would not drive on the wrong side of the road on my first trip.
Markets crash. Markets recover. Inflation takes your money FOREVER.

straws46
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by straws46 » Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:23 am

palaheel wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:13 am
I would not drive on the wrong side of the road on my first trip.
Walking is also dangerous. There are signs all over the place in London saying "look right." We are so use to seeing cars come from our left that we can step out into traffic while we are looking the wrong way. Be careful as a pedestrian in foreign countries especially where they drive on a different side of the road as we do.

stlutz
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by stlutz » Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:39 am

We love art galleries, museums, and beautiful buildings. We aren't foodies, but enjoy good meals. We aren't going to spend 75 dollars a person on a fancy restaurant more than once on a vacation, but we like to use tripadvisor to find good recommendations. I guess when I think of going overseas it's to see the sights and experience the culture. I want to make it a memorable vacation and take in as much of the city/country as we can. I guess this is why Rome appeals to me is the buildings, art, culture, etc.
Sounds to me like you have your answer! :sharebeer

palaheel
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by palaheel » Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:50 am

In Italy, prices can be negotiated. Even if you don't intend to haggle, ask the price before getting into that cab.
Markets crash. Markets recover. Inflation takes your money FOREVER.

tigermilk
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by tigermilk » Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:32 am

cherijoh wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:58 am
I would rule out South Africa, New Zealand, and Japan from consideration. They are really too far to travel for the amount of time you have available. Japan is also super expensive.
??? Japan isn't much longer of a flight from the US than Europe. Fortunately I am in a market with direct flights, so it is a 13 hourflightvs9 to 10 to Europe. Expensive? Not really. I find it to be less expensive than Europe. Sure if you stay at the Park Hyatt you will spend $500 to $1000 a night, but the same can be said if you stay at The Savoy. I other words, don't stay at places like that. But you can find good, albeit small, rooms in major hotels in the heart of Tokyo or Osaka for under $150 a night. Even less if you get out a bit. On our recent trip, our average hotel stay was around $130 a night which included breakfast. These were stays in Kawasaki (15 to 20 minutes to central Tokyo), Osaka, and Akasaka (heart of Tokyo). And while we did splurge on one meal with a Japanese friend of ours who resides in Tokyo, restaurants are typically cheaper than what I pay in the US.

jminv
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by jminv » Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:46 am

Some of those destinations will eat up too much of your vacation in travel time, particularly Cape Town (which is lovely and the water issue is really a non-issue if you are a tourist).

English is commonly spoken in most tourist destinations so you don't have to worry about that being any sort of real problem.

On your list, I would probably do Italy or Japan as that would leave you more time sight seeing and less time in a plane.

aqan
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by aqan » Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:00 am

adamthesmythe wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 3:40 pm
English is also very commonly spoken in: Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

There is a bit of a communications barrier for Americans in England and Ireland, and perhaps more in Scotland. Although in Scotland the language is very pleasant to hear and people are quite friendly.

Hong Kong is fairly easy for English speakers to navigate.
TU for Scandinavia. I loved my stay in Sweden and Finland when I was single. Planning to bring wife and kids to Iceland in the next couple of years. I hear that you can get air tickets from NYC around $300.
Language is not a problem in Scandinavia and people are nice too.

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Watty
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by Watty » Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:46 am

stlutz wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:39 am
We love art galleries, museums, and beautiful buildings. We aren't foodies, but enjoy good meals. We aren't going to spend 75 dollars a person on a fancy restaurant more than once on a vacation, but we like to use tripadvisor to find good recommendations. I guess when I think of going overseas it's to see the sights and experience the culture. I want to make it a memorable vacation and take in as much of the city/country as we can. I guess this is why Rome appeals to me is the buildings, art, culture, etc.
Sounds to me like you have your answer! :sharebeer
+1

You could do something like fly into Rome and return from Venice. You will be fine just knowing English there.

See the Rick Steeves Italy book for a suggested itinerary. Also check his book for which tickets you should buy in advance since some places like the Vatican should be bought far ahead of time.

The hotels that Rick Steeves recommends are often a bit more than I like to spend but usually he has some budget recommendations too if that is a factor. We rarely spend much time at the hotel so as long as it clean, safe, and in a good location that works for us. For such a short trip be sure to get hotels in good locations even if it costs a bit extra since doing things like taking a 20 minute subway ride to the tourist area will eat up time when you only have two days in a city.

One thing to watch out for is that after a while you will become saturated with museums and cathedrals so try to plan some other activities too.

Rome is very hot in the summer and Venice tends to flood in the fall so the spring would be a great time do do this.

It is doable but you will be rushed trying to see Rome, Florence, and Venice in ten days so try to extend your trip if possible. If you can only go seven days then I would limit it to two cities.

caffeperfavore
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by caffeperfavore » Mon Jun 04, 2018 8:11 am

tigermilk wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:32 am
cherijoh wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:58 am
I would rule out South Africa, New Zealand, and Japan from consideration. They are really too far to travel for the amount of time you have available. Japan is also super expensive.
??? Japan isn't much longer of a flight from the US than Europe. Fortunately I am in a market with direct flights, so it is a 13 hourflightvs9 to 10 to Europe. Expensive? Not really. I find it to be less expensive than Europe. Sure if you stay at the Park Hyatt you will spend $500 to $1000 a night, but the same can be said if you stay at The Savoy. I other words, don't stay at places like that. But you can find good, albeit small, rooms in major hotels in the heart of Tokyo or Osaka for under $150 a night. Even less if you get out a bit. On our recent trip, our average hotel stay was around $130 a night which included breakfast. These were stays in Kawasaki (15 to 20 minutes to central Tokyo), Osaka, and Akasaka (heart of Tokyo). And while we did splurge on one meal with a Japanese friend of ours who resides in Tokyo, restaurants are typically cheaper than what I pay in the US.
I was about to say the same thing. Yes, you can spend a lot in Japan, but you don't have to have a great time. If you look around a do a little research on TripAdvisor or other sights, you'll find lots of good inexpensive hotel options. I've had many, many meals for under $10 (but I love noodles, katsudon, and similar things). The quality of food in Japan is very high and they have some of the best restaurants in the world. Even train station food is good. Heck, even convenience store food is good.

Another benefit of being in Japan is that no one expects you to know anything. They assume you're clueless and help you out. They seem thrilled if you know anything at all about their language or culture. The Japanese are very polite and many will go out of their way to help you. I'm more relaxed there than in Western Europe because I don't feel the urge to try and blend in or be cool at all. In Japan you can be a complete tourist dork, because unless you look Japanese, you will stand out, so you can embrace it without shame.
Last edited by caffeperfavore on Mon Jun 04, 2018 8:20 am, edited 2 times in total.

caffeperfavore
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by caffeperfavore » Mon Jun 04, 2018 8:14 am

Just to piggyback on what others said, English is spoken everywhere. It's so easy for us Americans to get around. While I understand the desire to do an easy trip, there's also something really rewarding about immersing yourself in a very different culture. To me, that's one of the real joys of travel.

So yeah, don't overthink it.

Operon
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by Operon » Mon Jun 04, 2018 8:50 am

Menus and signage will not be in English in Italy, France, or Japan, but you will find many English speakers who can help you. (It would be good courtesy to learn at least some phrases in their language, of course). Most signage and most menus in tourist-frequented establishments in South Africa are in English, and it is extensively spoken (ditto Kenya and Tanzania, if I could put them on your radar, because I adore them). New Zealand, obviously, all English.

Apart from nationwide events like war or revolution, bear in mind that "safe places to travel" is very relative and very local. There are places in Cape Town where I feel much safer than places in Rome or Paris (or in my own city here in the US, for that matter). South Africa could add to your flight time compared to the European destinations, depending upon the route you take, but won't put you at any greater risk of jet lag than them. New Zealand will easily make for the longest trip. I think 7-10 days is enough time to enjoyably sample any of the destinations you mentioned but not super thoroughly explore.

cherijoh
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by cherijoh » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:35 am

tigermilk wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:32 am
cherijoh wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:58 am
I would rule out South Africa, New Zealand, and Japan from consideration. They are really too far to travel for the amount of time you have available. Japan is also super expensive.
??? Japan isn't much longer of a flight from the US than Europe. Fortunately I am in a market with direct flights, so it is a 13 hourflightvs9 to 10 to Europe. Expensive? Not really. I find it to be less expensive than Europe. Sure if you stay at the Park Hyatt you will spend $500 to $1000 a night, but the same can be said if you stay at The Savoy. I other words, don't stay at places like that. But you can find good, albeit small, rooms in major hotels in the heart of Tokyo or Osaka for under $150 a night. Even less if you get out a bit. On our recent trip, our average hotel stay was around $130 a night which included breakfast. These were stays in Kawasaki (15 to 20 minutes to central Tokyo), Osaka, and Akasaka (heart of Tokyo). And while we did splurge on one meal with a Japanese friend of ours who resides in Tokyo, restaurants are typically cheaper than what I pay in the US.
You must be on the west coast. The OP indicated he/she is on the east coast.
The farthest we have ever flown was Maui and that was a long flight from the east coast, and I know some of these locations are way further.
I'm in Charlotte NC and a direct flight to LHR is booked as an 8 hour flight although I've arrived more than an hour early with a good tail wind. From Boston a direct flight is booked as 6.5 hours. I flew from Boston to Shannon and there was barely enough time to serve dinner, show a 2 hr movie and then wake everyone up for coffee and a muffin and to get ready for landing.

On the other hand, the shortest connection I could find from Charlotte to Narita (Tokyo) was 15-16 hours with barely legal layovers (of less than an hour) in Atlanta, Dallas/Ft Worth, or Chicago. I personally would want at least a 90 minute layover for any of those airports since I've almost missed connecting flights from all three. :annoyed The shortest flight that would meet that criteria was 17.5 hours.

Now do you get why I said Japan was a whole lot further than the UK or France - at least from the east cost? I do agree that japan is closer than either NZ or South Africa.

Glockenspiel
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by Glockenspiel » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:41 am

There's truly no reason to limit your options to places where English is the most-commonly used language. Many people that you will encounter in European countries are multi-lingual, or at least have a little English to get by. Comparing Italy to France, I found Italian to be easier to figure out and easier to converse with people, but French people were really very nice. A lot of people in France just aren't quite as comfortable speaking English, so many English speakers mistakenly think they are being rude. It will make your experience a lot better if you can spend just a little bit of time to learn a couple of pleasantries (Hello, Bye, Thank you, etc) in their language. Then, most people will realize you're a tourist and will just start speaking English to you.

mptfan
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by mptfan » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:50 am

whodidntante wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 4:32 pm
Europeans don't like air conditioning, ice, or cold drinks as much as we do.
That is so true! Expect your drinks to be room temperature, or somewhat cool at best, and do not expect ice. Americans are accustomed to free flowing refills of water with ice and iced tea and sometimes soft drinks in full service restaurants, and in self serve restaurants we are accustomed to self service drink fountains with free flowing ice or self serve iced tea dispensers with unlimited ice. Don't expect either of those in Europe.

And don't get me started about condiments. I was at a full service sit down restaurant in Venice, and I ordered hamburger and fries, and when the food came to the table, I realized there was no ketchup, so I asked the server if I could have some ketchup, he came back with a single packet of ketchup and put it on the table next to me. A single packet (the standard sized packet you would get at McDonalds, about 1 inch by 3 inches). It was generally my experience in Europe that condiments are not provided, and even if requested are provided in very small quantities, and certainly a bottle was never provided at the table.
Last edited by mptfan on Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:05 am, edited 3 times in total.

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bligh
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by bligh » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:55 am

Anywhere in Western Europe is a safe choice for a first international trip. Actually any major tourist destination is a safe choice. English is spoken all over the world provided you don't go too far of the beaten path. The world is a welcoming and accommodating place provided you too are polite, humble and willing to respect the culture and people of the country you are visiting.

The UK is amazing and you cannot go wrong going there for your first international trip. I will +1 the comments about the Irish being super polite and include the Scottish people in that list too.

caffeperfavore
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by caffeperfavore » Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:35 am

mptfan wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:50 am
And don't get me started about condiments. I was at a full service sit down restaurant in Venice, and I ordered hamburger and fries, and when the food came to the table, I realized there was no ketchup,..
Oh man. If you're ordering a hamburger and fries in Venice, you're doing it all wrong.

mptfan
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by mptfan » Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:51 am

caffeperfavore wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:35 am
mptfan wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:50 am
And don't get me started about condiments. I was at a full service sit down restaurant in Venice, and I ordered hamburger and fries, and when the food came to the table, I realized there was no ketchup,..
Oh man. If you're ordering a hamburger and fries in Venice, you're doing it all wrong.
After eating pasta several times a day for several days, I wanted something different. I don't think that's wrong.

WhiteMaxima
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by WhiteMaxima » Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:55 am

Roma or Paris if you choose 1st vacation in Europe

Beijing or Kyoto if you choose Asia

The easiest int'l travel destination is Canada (our north neighbor) or Mexico

caffeperfavore
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by caffeperfavore » Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:15 am

mptfan wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:51 am
caffeperfavore wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:35 am
mptfan wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:50 am
And don't get me started about condiments. I was at a full service sit down restaurant in Venice, and I ordered hamburger and fries, and when the food came to the table, I realized there was no ketchup,..
Oh man. If you're ordering a hamburger and fries in Venice, you're doing it all wrong.
After eating pasta several times a day for several days, I wanted something different. I don't think that's wrong.
Fair enough and I know the feeling. It's good to have some comfort food or just a change after a while. Your post conjured up an inaccurate image in my head. My humble apologies. Here in the States we're spoiled by having nearly every type of food imaginable in most cities, and yet, I now recall that in Italy it's all (mostly) Italian!

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Pajamas
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by Pajamas » Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:30 am

You would be surprised at how many people speak English (frequently extremely well) in tourist spots around the world but especially so in Western Europe.

For a 7-10 day first international vacation, you might consider an excellent tour operator with relatively small groups (such as Rick Steves) to make the most efficient use of your time without feeling like you are on a tightly-scheduled whirlwind tour. Basically your ground travel and accommodations and guide for the top sites are taken care of so you don't have to deal with any the arrangements or problems that arise but you still have plenty of time to see, do, and eat what you want.

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dumbbunny
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by dumbbunny » Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:40 am

Consider Spain.
Start a Renfe (Spain) or Eurail (Europe) account.
If renting a car, chose diesel. Google the exact pick-up and drop-off location of your rental to avoid driving around trying to find it. Sometimes the drop-offs are in an obscure public parking structure.
If your ATM pin is made up of letters, be sure to know what numbers correspond to the letters as some keypads are only numbers.
Read Tripadvisor reviews on places you choose or places that are recommended.
Contact your credit card companies to let them know you will be making international purchases.
Take a picture of your passport and all travel confirmations.
Buy a converter for your cellphone charger.
Last edited by dumbbunny on Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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nedsaid
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by nedsaid » Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:43 am

KlingKlang wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:09 pm
ugaDAWGS09 wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 3:30 pm
My wife and I are looking to plan our first international trip. We are looking for a 7-10 day vacation in a safe area where English will be commonly spoken.
Would Canada be too obvious of a suggestion?
Actually, I did this back in 2009 in preparation for later trips to Europe. I did a Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City trip. Got experience with passport controls, customs, and language. Quebec would be a great idea as it is French speaking but many people speak English. Quebec City will give you the closest you can come to a European City, pretty cool as it is the only fortified city in North America. Sort of like Europe on training wheels.

When I arrived in Quebec City, I went to a McDonald's after checking into the hotel. Tried to order from a teenaged kid who didn't speak English, did the best I could and hoped for the best. I said to myself, "This is going to be a long four days." Turned out, most spoke English but found out it isn't required in the schools. Had the opposite experience in the Netherlands, I went into a truck stop McDonald's and said "McFlurry" and mentioned the flavor. He answered back in perfect English and I never felt so stupid in my life.

English gets you around pretty well in much of the world. Even in Japan, probably 5% speak it fluently. It is a required subject in school. I encountered a young railway clerk who could write beautiful English sentences but couldn't speak it. Japan is a fantastic place for Americans to visit, the Japanese are unfailingly polite to visitors and will actually look out after you. I wouldn't let the language barriers stop you.
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kaudrey
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by kaudrey » Wed Jun 06, 2018 12:38 pm

To throw out some different suggestions: I love Vancouver, or, if you want closer, how about Bermuda?

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by kaudrey » Wed Jun 06, 2018 12:38 pm

To throw out some different suggestions: I love Vancouver, or, if you want closer, how about Bermuda?

an_asker
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by an_asker » Wed Jun 06, 2018 1:04 pm

caffeperfavore wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:35 am
mptfan wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:50 am
And don't get me started about condiments. I was at a full service sit down restaurant in Venice, and I ordered hamburger and fries, and when the food came to the table, I realized there was no ketchup,..
Oh man. If you're ordering a hamburger and fries in Venice, you're doing it all wrong.
If he were in Rome, yes, you would be right* ;-)

* unless the Romans were also ordering hamburger and fries!!

WhyNotUs
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by WhyNotUs » Wed Jun 06, 2018 4:01 pm

+1 for western europe, intl travel 101.

If your first instinct is Rome and your spouse agrees, then I would not look any farther. I have travelled to six continents and we try to least learn polite phrases for introduction, asking whether the other person speaks english, and thank you/good bye. Sometimes we go farther but Asian languages and Portugese have been big challenges for me.

If we ever get over our "exceptionalism", we will start learning additional languages in elementary school. In the meantime, a few phrases and a smile go a long way.
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by tigermilk » Wed Jun 06, 2018 4:53 pm

caffeperfavore wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:35 am
mptfan wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:50 am
And don't get me started about condiments. I was at a full service sit down restaurant in Venice, and I ordered hamburger and fries, and when the food came to the table, I realized there was no ketchup,..
Oh man. If you're ordering a hamburger and fries in Venice, you're doing it all wrong.
We found the food in Venice to be pretty bad. Thousands of tourists trapped on an island - why make an effort if you're a restaurant? Now on the Italian mainland? Plenty of wonderful memories of the food in Turin.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by hightower » Wed Jun 06, 2018 5:12 pm

My first european vacation was to the UK. We drove around Ireland following Rick Steve's guidebooks for about a week, then went over to London for another week after that. It was an incredible trip. I highly recommend Rick Steves and follow his recommendations religiously. He'll save you money, keep you safe, and make sure you have an incredible trip;)

I'll be going to Germany again next week actually. We've been once before and it's also a great place for a first time European trip. The Germans are very hospitable and most of them are multi-lingual. Berlin is especially fascinating and you don't need anything but English there.

Dudley
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by Dudley » Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:15 pm

Amsterdam & Bruge (Belgium) together

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by SrGrumpy » Thu Jun 07, 2018 3:25 pm

Iceland - Europe for Beginners. Get there before the island sinks under the weight of the tourist traffic.

London/England would, otherwise, be my recommendation - although I am back in Scotland now, and loving it immensely. Anywhere in the British Isles will be hugely rewarding. Yeah, they speak English - kind of. Hilarity will ensue.

LookingForward
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by LookingForward » Sat Jun 09, 2018 8:55 am

ugaDAWGS09 wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 3:30 pm
My wife and I are looking to plan our first international trip.
I like that viewpoint of your first international trip. There will be others, so pick a spot, and enjoy it!

The first few trips that my wife and I took overseas were… busy. We were young, hadn’t seen anything of the world, and we wanted to make the most of our trips.

Our first trip was to London, Bath, Wales, Scotland. We drove everywhere, staying only a night in each place. We did something similar in Switzerland a few years later. That’s not our recommended method of travel now, but there is something to be said for getting a quick feel for places you might want to re-visit in the future, if you have the energy. Nowadays we stay 3-4 nights in each place, to give us time to see the sights and get a feel for the area. We look forward to retirement, and staying 3-4 weeks in each place.

You shouldn’t have trouble speaking only English, in pretty much any major city in Europe. If you get outside the cities, you may find places that have nobody that speaks English well, but as others have noted, learning “please” and “thank you” in whatever language will go a looong way.

For specific recommendations, we love Florence, and Salzburg. Both are small cities, which we’ve found we prefer over huge metropolises like Paris or Rome. Small towns like Hallstatt or Mürren can be very enjoyable for relaxing. Florence definitely will have all the art and museums you could want, but without being quite as crowded or big as Rome.

I echo others’ recommendations on using Rick Steves material as a resource. He has all the videos from his shows on his site, so watch the episodes for the places you’re interested in, make a list of things you’d like to do, but don’t try to cram in too much. You can always go back for more!

I’d recommend making sure wherever you stay has air conditioning, in case it’s very hot. If you plan each day in advance, make sure the museums or whatever are open on the days you’d like to go, and try to buy tickets in advance, since that usually allows you to skip long lines. We usually schedule a “down” day about 3-4 days into the trip, just to catch up on jet lag and rest — nothing specifically planned, some light shopping and maybe a nap.

It may be a good idea to take a tour the first full day you’re in a new place, as an overview. Big Bus hop-on-hop-off tours can be good, and cost effective, but my favorite is a Segway tour. They’re fun, you cover a lot of ground quickly, and you can easily get to the top of castle hills while others are trudging up.

Enjoy your trip, and all the future trips!

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by Life Is Good » Sat Jun 09, 2018 8:58 am

All of the suggestions above are quite good. It's all about what is most important for you to see.

My family (wife and kids 10 and 8) just did our first international vacation to Rome (5 nights) /Florence (4 nights) /Pisa (day trip) /Venice (2 nights) and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was absolutely wonderful. As mentioned above, the Rick Steves guide was worth its weight in gold. We pack the Rick Steves style as well - backpacks only - which worked out perfectly. (Watching people lug their heavy bags up and down the stairs of Venice was entertaining in itself.) And he is very good at advising what is worth standing in line for and what is not, i.e. making the most out of your vacation time. All his videos are available on his website as well and are worth watching.

Most waiters and hoteliers speak English but do the polite thing and learn a few basic phrases to not be "that American."

With two kids in tow, it was unreal what we saw in two weeks. There was still plenty we had to pass up on, but hopefully we'll be back someday! No matter where you go, be sure to download the Rick Steves audioguide app which is free and has dozens of tours throughout Europe. Really well done.

Good luck and enjoy!

ETA - we found the food in Venice to be outstanding, but you need to go to the $$$ places. It's worth it. Avoid all places in Europe with pictures on the menu.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by jodydavis » Sat Jun 09, 2018 5:45 pm

ugaDAWGS09 wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:17 am
We love art galleries, museums, and beautiful buildings. We aren't foodies, but enjoy good meals. We aren't going to spend 75 dollars a person on a fancy restaurant more than once on a vacation, but we like to use tripadvisor to find good recommendations. I guess when I think of going overseas it's to see the sights and experience the culture. I want to make it a memorable vacation and take in as much of the city/country as we can. I guess this is why Rome appeals to me is the buildings, art, culture, etc.
In light of this, just go to Paris. Seriously. Art galleries and museums are unbelievable (Louvre, D'Orsay, etc.). The built environment is exquisite and nothing like any other city (more striking than London, Rome, etc.). Lots of amazing architecture/cathedrals (Notre Dame, Ste. Chappelle, etc.). Easy day trips to more cool buildings/sights (Versailles, Chartres). Food is amazing, at all levels, with 3 star restaurants, cozy bistros, and even basic picnic foods are amazing (croissants, pastries, cheese, etc.). And as mentioned before, very easy to get around using English.

Rome/Venice/Florence would also be similarly amazing an all of the same fronts (art/food/culture), except: (1) a bit farther; (2) a tiny bit more chaotic and a tiny bit less English-friendly; and (3) w/r/t Rome specifically, extremely hot/humid during the summer if you are going then.

UK/Ireland would also wonderful on all the same fronts, except: (1) less different than U.S., so potentially less interesting or almost too easy; (2) built environment is not quite as pretty; and (3) food is not quite as good or as distinctive.

Any of the above would be great first international trips. Just tiny differences in terms of emphasis. If you prefer Italian food to French food, go to Italy instead. If you really want things to be easy this first trip, go to the U.K. instead, and save the others for a future trip. You really can't go wrong.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by oldcomputerguy » Sat Jun 09, 2018 6:18 pm

Try a Viking River cruise. It has just about everything you describe.
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by AlphaLess » Sat Jun 09, 2018 6:35 pm

tigermilk wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:32 am
cherijoh wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:58 am
I would rule out South Africa, New Zealand, and Japan from consideration. They are really too far to travel for the amount of time you have available. Japan is also super expensive.
??? Japan isn't much longer of a flight from the US than Europe.
OPs in the East Coast, though.
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by david_that_guy » Sun Jun 10, 2018 7:45 am

Even if you love museums, you will find yourself getting overwhelmed. For example, the Louvre has 35,000 items on display. If you spent 30 seconds looking at each one, you would need 6 weeks (8 hours per day). This is also true of the Uffizi in Florence, Vatican Museum in Rome, National Gallery in London. For most people, if you spend more than a few hours in a museum, you'll start shambling around like a zombie, seeing but not appreciating anything. So plan to pace yourself. Last year we spent 6 hours in the Musée D'Orsay. My wife really wanted to appreciate everything. I was toast after 4 hours but went along. Another thing to consider is any differences in your levels of enthusiasm. At least in that relatively small museum you really can see everything.

I love museums, architecture, etc., but the most educational and interesting part of travel is meeting and talking to locals. That will obviously be easier in the UK and Ireland but is still possible on the continent. My wife and I have done 8 European trips. We now use Airbnb and deliberately stay in a room in someone's house or apartment so we meet the owners. We look for a married couple as hosts who get great reviews for being friendly. On our most recent trip, we spent 60 - 90 minutes every morning over breakfast with a retired couple (our hosts) talking about everything from local culture and even (!) politics. You can see on the site who speaks English. We've also done this with "regular" bed n' breakfasts, so I'm not trying to plug one service.

Also, plan to spend time just relaxing and wandering around. Please don't plan everything. Have fun!

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market timer
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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by market timer » Sun Jun 10, 2018 8:11 am

I vote for Paris + day trips.

With only 7-10 days, I'd rule out the Asia-Pacific region. It's not worth the flight time and jet lag. That leaves Europe or Central / South America. If you want nature, Costa Rica is a good choice. If you want history and museums, pick London or Paris. I'm partial to Paris.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by RollTide31457 » Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:25 am

Consider an all inclusive resort in Cabo, etc. Everything you need will be contained within the resort and the customer interfacing employees will speak excellent English.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by neilpilot » Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:53 am

RollTide31457 wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:25 am
Consider an all inclusive resort in Cabo, etc. Everything you need will be contained within the resort and the customer interfacing employees will speak excellent English.
The OP says they "love to sight-see, explore the local culture, and find nice places to eat". Somehow I doubt that an all inclusive resort fits that bill in almost any location, certainly including Cabo.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by SrGrumpy » Sun Jun 10, 2018 2:37 pm

neilpilot wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:53 am
RollTide31457 wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:25 am
Consider an all inclusive resort in Cabo, etc. Everything you need will be contained within the resort and the customer interfacing employees will speak excellent English.
The OP says they "love to sight-see, explore the local culture, and find nice places to eat". Somehow I doubt that an all inclusive resort fits that bill in almost any location, certainly including Cabo.
+1. A Cabo all-inclusive will scare them straight. No more foreign vacations.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by Erwin007 » Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:51 pm

SrGrumpy wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 2:37 pm
neilpilot wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:53 am
RollTide31457 wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:25 am
Consider an all inclusive resort in Cabo, etc. Everything you need will be contained within the resort and the customer interfacing employees will speak excellent English.
The OP says they "love to sight-see, explore the local culture, and find nice places to eat". Somehow I doubt that an all inclusive resort fits that bill in almost any location, certainly including Cabo.
+1. A Cabo all-inclusive will scare them straight. No more foreign vacations.
Agreed. But not surprising that someone with the user handle RollTidexxxx would consider a trip to an all-inclusive in Cabo an “international vacation.”

A recommendation I haven’t seen would be staying on the southern coast of Spain. We did that for a week after graduating from Med school and had a great time. I speak French but no Spanish and got around fine. Went to Gibraltar for a day, Ronda for a day (exceptional), and Benahavis for another day. Plenty to see and do and didn’t feel like not speaking the language was a huge hindrance.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by RollTide31457 » Sun Jun 10, 2018 4:44 pm

Erwin007 wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:51 pm
SrGrumpy wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 2:37 pm
neilpilot wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:53 am
RollTide31457 wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:25 am
Consider an all inclusive resort in Cabo, etc. Everything you need will be contained within the resort and the customer interfacing employees will speak excellent English.
The OP says they "love to sight-see, explore the local culture, and find nice places to eat". Somehow I doubt that an all inclusive resort fits that bill in almost any location, certainly including Cabo.
+1. A Cabo all-inclusive will scare them straight. No more foreign vacations.
Agreed. But not surprising that someone with the user handle RollTidexxxx would consider a trip to an all-inclusive in Cabo an “international vacation.”

A recommendation I haven’t seen would be staying on the southern coast of Spain. We did that for a week after graduating from Med school and had a great time. I speak French but no Spanish and got around fine. Went to Gibraltar for a day, Ronda for a day (exceptional), and Benahavis for another day. Plenty to see and do and didn’t feel like not speaking the language was a huge hindrance.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by unstartable » Sun Jun 10, 2018 4:50 pm

jodydavis wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 4:22 pm
I would avoid Japan/China/Asia (other than perhaps Hong Kong/Singapore) if you are worried about the language, as it is a bit more difficult to get around (though still not really a problem, as there is a lot of tourism). Also, if you are not experienced with long flights, I'd avoid S. Africa, New Zealand, Australia, as those are really, really long flights.
My wife and I visited Kyoto Japan and had no problems at all with the language. Every person under the age of about 40 spoke English well enough that we could get around. Many times people asked if they can help when we were standing on the sidewalk trying to figure out where we were going.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by neilpilot » Sun Jun 10, 2018 5:08 pm

Erwin007 wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:51 pm

A recommendation I haven’t seen would be staying on the southern coast of Spain. We did that for a week after graduating from Med school and had a great time. I speak French but no Spanish and got around fine. Went to Gibraltar for a day, Ronda for a day (exceptional), and Benahavis for another day. Plenty to see and do and didn’t feel like not speaking the language was a huge hindrance.
We've vacationed for 1-2 weeks in the south of Spain many times; we fly into Malaga and stay in Marbella or Estipona. We've always gone in the fall or winter, and once in the very early spring. We obviously like that area, as well as Majorca & Menorca in the Balearic islands.

But the OP expects to travel in spring or summer, when the area is usually overrun with UK tourists. At that time of year, the Costa del Sol is way too busy for me, and also much too hot.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by Erwin007 » Sun Jun 10, 2018 5:13 pm

neilpilot wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 5:08 pm
Erwin007 wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:51 pm

A recommendation I haven’t seen would be staying on the southern coast of Spain. We did that for a week after graduating from Med school and had a great time. I speak French but no Spanish and got around fine. Went to Gibraltar for a day, Ronda for a day (exceptional), and Benahavis for another day. Plenty to see and do and didn’t feel like not speaking the language was a huge hindrance.
We've vacationed for 1-2 weeks in the south of Spain many times; we fly into Malaga and stay in Marbella or Estipona. We've always gone in the fall or winter, and once in the very early spring. We obviously like that area, as well as Majorca & Menorca in the Balearic islands.

But the OP expects to travel in spring or summer, when the area is usually overrun with UK tourists. At that time of year, the Costa del Sol is way too busy for me, and also much too hot.
Sounds like you’ve obviously been there more than we have. We went in June and didn't find it particularly overrun, or too hot, but we were also used to living in hot/humid climates. And this was in 2008 so things might have changed since we’ve been.

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Re: Need advice on 1st international vacation

Post by MDfan » Sun Jun 10, 2018 5:34 pm

ugaDAWGS09 wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:17 am
stlutz wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 3:51 pm
What are you interested in? Art, food, nature, history etc.?

If you're planning this far ahead, you should have some time to learn some language. Not enough to be fluent but enough that you can make an attempt and natives will switch over to English to be nice to you.
We love art galleries, museums, and beautiful buildings. We aren't foodies, but enjoy good meals. We aren't going to spend 75 dollars a person on a fancy restaurant more than once on a vacation, but we like to use tripadvisor to find good recommendations. I guess when I think of going overseas it's to see the sights and experience the culture. I want to make it a memorable vacation and take in as much of the city/country as we can. I guess this is why Rome appeals to me is the buildings, art, culture, etc.

I can't recommend Italy highly enough. We did Rome, Florence and Venice (rushed), and I would go back again in a heartbeat. If you love art galleries and museums (not my thing), you will absolutely love Italy, especially Florence. Florence was by far my favorite of the three we visited, but everyone should see Rome.

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