Blake X is an award-winning writer and production manager for a news publication, an aspiring novelist, and an amateur comic book style artist. He enjoys traveling, music, good drinks, nature, and literature. Follow him on Instagram.

Travel tips & tricks (Part 2)

August 17, 2018

Last time, I shared what I consider to be the three P’s of traveling: planning, packing, and preparation. But even after following these steps, you would, in my opinion, do well to not forget about the odds and ends; the minutiae that often slip beneath the radar when you’re getting ready for your big trip to Europe, but which can turn into hiccups and roadblocks when you actually begin traveling. I’ll explain what these are, and how I think you can best avoid them. If you checked out Part 1 of this little guide, and if it was in any way helpful or informative, then please, read on!

Odds and ends

-        Plug adapters
I was fortunate enough to get these before I visited Paris in 2015. The outlets used abroad are different from those we use in the states. So unless you pick up some U.S.-to-European plug adapters beforehand, you’ll find that you won’t be able to charge your phone or your laptop! In countries like France and Germany, they use plugs with two round-shaped prongs (Type C), rather than the rectangular ones used in the U.S. (most commonly Type B). The UK and Ireland use an altogether different plug type (Type G) that will require a different adapter. Australia and New Zealand use another style called Type I, and Denmark often uses Type K (the outlet looks like a smiley face). Italy sometimes uses Type L. Different outlets, which need different plugs, which, for visitors, need various adapters. Find out which countries you’ll be visiting, and get the appropriate ones!

-        Smartphones, SIM cards
So, I found out the hard way that even if you have a GSM phone, you probably won’t get any service (aside from Wi-Fi), if you’re using an American SIM card. But hang on, let’s back things up for those who don’t know. GSM means Global System for Mobile communications (I know, I know, it’s odd that it isn’t called ‘GSMC’). This means that a phone works internationally, and it includes U.S. networks like T-Mobile and AT&T. On the other hand, Verizon and Sprint phones will not work outside North America, as they use CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access – don’t ask). So before you go anywhere, double-check to make sure you have a GSM phone. If you don’t, you’ll need to ask your provider to unlock your phone before you go abroad.

Next, bring an extra SIM card, one that works worldwide; I’ll be grabbing an Orange card before I head back to Paris, but there are other companies that offer international SIM cards as well. You can still keep your American SIM card on hand, as it may work in some circumstances (Germany, for example, also uses T-Mobile, like the U.S.). If your phone offers Dual SIM support, so much the better. You can keep both your U.S. and International cards in there and switch back and forth as needed. Also, in case the worst happens and you don’t have a working SIM card, take advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots (European countries are full of them) and use Apps like Skype that can utilize Wi-Fi to make calls. “But why not just pick up another SIM card in Europe?” you may ask. Well, sometimes this is a viable option, but some countries make it difficult or impossible to purchase a SIM card unless you’re a resident with proof of address (I’m looking at you, Germany!). As with anything, research is key, but if you follow the aforementioned steps, you should be alright.

-        Travel size it
Believe it or not, some people actually bring large bottles of shampoo, big bars of soap, whole tubes of toothpaste, and cans of Axe and other body sprays with them in their luggage, only to have to take it all out during the TSA security check, holding up the line at the airport, though probably not for as long as this run-on sentence. Anyway, there’s this section in CVS or Walgreens that has tons of travel size items. Make use of it! You’re allowed to bring those types of accoutrements, so long as they’re small and stored in a small ziploc bag. I’ve filled three such bags with everything from folding toothbrushes to miniature deodorant. When it comes to this stuff, bigger is not better.

-        Be aware of the 90-day limit
This bit is particularly important. Tourists to most EU countries have a 90-day limit within which they can stay. So if you’re planning on a very long stay there, know that if you go over that limit even by one day, you’ll be in serious trouble. The 90 days are also cumulative within a 180-day period, and if that sounds at all confusing, I can quickly break it down for you. Say you go to France for 60 days, then come back to the U.S. for 60 days, and then go back to France for another 60. Well, you can’t do it! Basically, you can only stay in certain EU countries (in any combination with one another) for 90 days total - even if you come back to the U.S. in between – for a 180-day period. But after those 180 days pass, your count will reset, and you’ll have another fresh 90 days. So, you could spend all of January in Berlin, come back to the U.S. for two months, then spend 60 days in Prague, and return home in June. Then, after 30 more days pass, you’ll have a new 90-day period, so you can go back to an EU country in August, if you wish. It may seem complicated, but you’ll get the hang of it.

Also, be aware that not all European countries are in what is called the Schengen Area, and thus may have their own rules with their own limits for tourist stays. It also means that those non-Schengen nations are not beholden to that 90-day rule, and that’s where things get interesting. It means that once your 90-day limit is reached, you could in theory travel somewhere like Croatia, Bulgaria, or Ireland, let the remainder of your 180-day period expire, and then go back to Paris or Berlin or wherever. Again, however, bear in mind that non-Schengen countries have their own rules and limits. If you leave the Schengen area only to overstay your visit to Romania or Ukraine (each of which also has its own 90-day limit), you’re not being clever, you’re getting yourself into a bad legal situation. If you’re still confused, I recommend reading this article, which explains it better than I ever could.
-        Get your apps in order!
While I don’t necessarily condone letting technology dominate your life, or relying upon smartphones to the detriment of your intellect and deductive/reasoning skills, I do, however, advise that you fill your phone with all sorts of things that will help you while abroad! Google Translate and Google Maps are invaluable when you need to translate a menu or get somewhere in a pinch. Remember that the former often allows you to translate street signs just by holding up your camera, and that the latter can direct you to the nearest police station or U.S. embassy in the event of a disaster or emergency (both of which are – trust me – unlikely). A compass app can also be helpful, and as I suggested in my previous blog post, DuoLingo is an excellent tool for learning new languages.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Note that while some of the above odds and ends are just that – odds and ends, others are actually rather important! As always, I hope that what I’ve written here proves useful, and if you have any tips or suggestions, or if you want to share your experiences, leave a comment or email me at This is only Part 2 of an ongoing series. There’s more to come!

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