Friday, April 22, 2011

What a Trip - Hits and Misses

Before I overshare all the details of our recent Egypt/Italy trip, I thought I would start with a breakdown of what we saw as hits and misses when it came to our planning and preparation for the trip. I hope some of these help you in your next big trip!

Itineraries - great for both our own organization and appeasing worried mothers like mine who weren't sure about their little daughter headed to post-revolution Egypt and would receive a copy! The 7 page word document contained all flight and train information, confirmation numbers, hotel addresses and screenshots from GoogleMaps, restaurant recommendations with map screenshots, tipping information for both countries, our plans for each of the days, our confirmation emails from our pre-purchased tickets to the Vatican and Colloseum and more. Why was it important I printed two copies, one for each of us? Because I proceeded to lose mine within the first day. I think I left it in our travel companions' room and never checked back for it. Woops!

Audio Guides - When I pre-purchased tickets for the Vatican (such a smart move after seeing how long the line for non-reservations was!) I did not book a guided tour. We tried to upgrade when we got there, but the tours were all filled up. Instead we paid 7 euro each for an audio guide and I'm glad we did. I was impressed with how many statues and pieces throughout the museum linked to the guide, and it was great to be able to go at our own pace instead of keeping up with a group. Bob also somehow had two sets of earbuds in his bag that day so we didn't have to keep holding them up to our ears.

Travel Alarm Clock - I knew our phones wouldn't work overseas, and neither Bob or I wear a watch. I also know that it is rare to get an alarm clock in B&B type rooms we'd be staying in. We spent $6 at Target the morning of our flight on this little guy. Small enough to throw in my purse so we had a timekeeper when we were out and about, and also a reliable wake up call, the travel alarm clock came in handy - I almost forgot to buy batteries before we left so that could have been a fail!

Culture Week - our trip to Rome happened to coincide with the start of Italy's Culture Week where a plethora of museums and sites were open free to the public. Did not include the Vatican but did include the Colloseum. But wait, we pre-paid for our tickets! Never fear, when we picked up our reserved tickets they let me know we had already been refunded. Of course, I did not get refunded a $3 online booking fee. Ahh well, still saved us about  $35! Thank you Italy!

Inspiration - Heading into a Rome shop that reminded us of World Market, Bob not only found his new favorite hat, but we also found some decorating inspiration. Although we did not buy these pillows, the color scheme got us thinking ahead to a master bedroom rich in oranges, browns and bronzes.

Okay, all good stuff. But what about the misses?

Travelers Cheques - One comment by a colleague regarding some difficulty at an ATM in the middle east got me worried about our access to money. I pushed us to put some of our money in travelers cheques form. What could be the downside? Just that no one takes them any more! They burned a hole in our pocket all through Egypt. I had to cash the US currency I had so we could get out of the Cairo Airport, and then we ended up going to the ATM a couple times: multiple banks just shook their heads when we asked if they exchange the cheques. We encountered pretty much the same thing in Italy. We found one place at the airport and did enough to get by for the first couple days, thinking we would just find an American Express office in Florence. Closed. Another trip to the ATM. We planned ahead and mapped out where the office was in Rome and headed there on Saturday afternoon. Closed at noon and not open again until Monday. Back to the ATM we went, and in our travel pouch the cheques stayed. We brought them back to our bank to replenish our account, but are still out the $25 fee for getting them in the first place. Fail.

Convenient Travel Toiletries - I thought these were cool when I saw them at a travel store a few months ago and bought them at $5 each for Bob's Christmas stocking. Individual sheets that would turn soapy or liquidy when met with water. Except they didn't work at all! The sheets got sticky but didn't disintegrate like I thought they would so I couldn't get much action when it came to getting clean. These met the garbage can before we got too far into the trip.

My Health - As our plane landed in Cairo I thought to myself, "Hmm, I have a little tickle in my throat. Must be from the dry plane air." Later that night it became a full-fledged sore throat and 24 hours later I had no voice. This can't last more than a day, right? Wrong! I didn't have a voice for 4 1/2 days! I couldn't believe it. I kept drinking hot tea and eventually broke down and went to a pharmacie for some lozenges (which I hate). Of course, you don't need a voice to enjoy the pyramids so I didn't let it get me down. However, by the time we hit Florence I was in full cold mode. All stuffed up. I was happy for the 4-pack of travel tissues I had picked up before our trip and some nasal spray and Tylenol PM helped me get through the nights. 

On top of that, on the train to Florence I bit down on a peanut M&M and proceeded to break (and I think swallow) one of my fillings. With half a tooth going on, I was convinced every bite of pasta and gelato would be pain but luckily that wasn't the case and I was able to enjoy everything just fine. A dentist appointment is happening next week!

I finally felt better on our last couple days of the trip, but I didn't let my health issues get the better of me. Still an amazing trip and I was never so sick that it prevented me from participating in activities or spending the day walking. A week later and back in Chicago Bob proceeded to get sick and the cycle continues - I'm going on Day 5 of this leg of the cold and hope some rest this weekend will perk me back up.

So there's a quick list of hits and misses from the logistics side of our trip. Hope you find a take away or two out of this list for your next trip - and please send any and all "get well soon" balloons and fruit baskets my way.

1 comment:

  1. your trip sounds (and looks!) like it was amazing! it's made my travel bug start itching...glad you made it home safe and sound!

    not sure if you bank with them, but the large chase office down in the loop has a currency exchange that is free for chase customers. call ahead to check their inventory, but i go there to get about a hundred £ before heading over to the UK. it's much cheaper than the airport and tourist exchange options when you land.

    and if you ever have a large stash of foreign coins that you get tired of stashing in a jar or trying to lug on your next trip, there's a coin collector near that chase on lasalle that will exchange most coins. i walked out with $65!