Tag Archives: preparations


A Visit to Europe – Preparations – Everything else

As anyone who’s traveled internationally before knows, cell and data roaming fees from your local provider can be exorbitant.  For example, while traveling on business and using a my company’s blackberry for simple email, light websurfing, and the occasional call, I’ve racked up bills of $300+ for just 2 weeks of travel!  It’s far more economical to buy a prepaid SIM card in the country you’re traveling to.  However, that also requires an unlocked phone/tablet that supports the cellular frequency band of said country.  (for more details, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellular_frequencies  or here: http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/05/new-startup-wants-you-to-save-on-crazy-roaming-fees-while-traveling/  )

Since I only have the wifi version of the Nexus 7, I decided to buy a portable router for the trip.  The advantage of such a device is that more than one device can connect to the router and go online at the same time – handy in this day and age when one person may have a phone, a tablet, and/or a laptop.  Also, many cellular bands are supported, in effect meaning that it can used world-wide (though one should always double-check the list of supported bands before buying).  The model I ended up buying was the Huawei E5776s.  In addition to the features I’ve already mentioned, the reason I went for this particular model was because it had a stated battery life of 10hrs (important, because I planned to use it all day for GPS while driving), and it could also serve as a backup battery for my tablet in a pinch (meaning I could charge my tablet FROM the router).  After 3+ weeks of use, I can say that it works well.  It doesn’t have quite the fast start-up speed advertised (it seems to take up to 30sec-1min to connect to a network), but it was sturdy, battery life was good (at least 7hrs+), and I had no issues using it first in Japan and later in Italy.

Aside from the router, I also purchased a cheap Nokia 101 phone.  It is, as stated, a very basic, no-frills device.  It worked with no issues whatsoever (I swapped SIM cards between the router and phone as needed).  Overall, I can say that I have no regrets about these 2 purchases, especially because I can continue to use both for future travels overseas.  I will write about the service provider I ended up using in Italy in my next post, for those that are curious.

The final items I prepared for the trip were:

– portable water bottle with filter

– International Driver’s Permit

Though we knew that tap water is fine to drink in Italy, we still decided to play it safe and chose to buy a portable water filter – we went for the OKO 550ml Level 2 filter.  This was one purchase I was not too happy with.  I can’t vouch for the quality of the filter, but we never got sick, so that’s good!  However, its tendency to leak was extremely frustrating.  Drinking with this requires a strong hand as you need to squeeze the bottle firmly in order for water to come out.  This is not a problem.  However, after a certain period of time (depending on your squeezing skills), water seeps into the thread that screws the filter to the bottle, and water starts leaking all over you while you’re drinking!  To get around this, unscrew the top and give a few strong shakes to get the excess water off the filter.  Then screw it back on and you should be good to go for a few more gulps (or more, depending on how much you drink in one go) before you have to repeat the process again.  Again, not a purchase I was really happy with.

The final major thing I had to prepare was my IDP – aka International Driver’s Permit.  There seems to be a lot of conflicting information online as to whether or not an IDP is really necessary.  My stance is – better to have it than not.  It’s not too cheap (at least in Japan, it costs 3,000 yen), but I prefer the peace of mind it afforded me.  For those interested in knowing about the process of getting an IDP in Japan, check out this site: http://blog.hinomaple.com/2012/11/02/getting-an-idp-in-japan/

Those were all the major preparations I could think of doing prior to our trip, and I’m glad I did them.  Another source of information was the Rick Steve’s forum – it’s very active, and I got some very helpful advice and tips there.  Also, I have to recommend the RS app for the free walking guides – he provides some useful background to where you are and what you’re seeing, which really helps bring your trip/walking tour/museum visit to life.  And it’s free – that can’t be beat 😉

In my next post, I’ll briefly write about the network provider I used in Italy (didn’t bother with one in Prague), and then will write about the places we visited.  I’m not sure yet if I’ll do a day by day trip… I think that probably will be too much (I’ve already written about 3,000 words on this, and haven’t even left Japan 😛



A visit to Europe – part 1 of… probably many

I rather wish I’d followed up on my original goal of writing a little each day during our trip to Europe. As it is, I only started writing on the first day… and nothing more after that. It was just too hectic, and we were so exhausted at the end of the day that staying awake to write was out of the question. So what comes will be based primarily on memory… which I confess is not always the sharpest. Oh well. Perhaps some of this will be interesting to read, or of use to other travellers.

The Start (Planning)

It’s hard to believe that the trip is over, particularly since we started thinking about it over 6 months ago. S and I had realized that we both had a significant amount of airline mileage that was due to expire, and needed to figure out quickly what to do with them. Luckily, one is able to book a flight up to several months in the future – the booking just needs to be made BEFORE the mileage expires. So though our mileage was due to expire in December, we decided to plan a trip around the “golden week” period in Japan, where we’d be able to combine a number of national holidays with my regular paid holiday at work, for an extended vacation. Total time off? THREE WEEKS. I’ve never taken that much time off from work since I finished university! You can imagine I was pretty psyched 🙂

Since I’d never been to Europe before, it was high on my bucket list, and since neither of us had been to Italy, our destination was easily settled. We also decided to toss in a quick trip to Prague since… why not? It sounded cool, and images of the city online looked like it would be a pleasant/easy start to a Europe trip. So we quickly decided – 3 days in Prague, and 2.5 weeks in Italy. That was the easy part.

Much harder was figuring out exactly how much time we would spend where. Three days here? Two days there? Another two days here, or maybe three days?
Even though we already knew we wanted to spend most of our time in Italy, there are just so many places IN Italy that we wanted to see. The gondolas in Venice, Michelangelo’s statue of David in Florence, the seaside cliffs of Cinque Terre, the hilltowns of Tuscany, and more! 2.5 weeks is no where near enough to see Italy. However, we tried cramming in as many locations as we could (which, ultimately, we ended up regretting somewhat), and our final schedule looked like this:

  • Prague: 3 days, 4 nights
  • Venice: 2 days, 3 nights
  • Cinque Terre: half day, full day, and 2 nights
  • Florence: 2 days, 3 nights
  • Siena: 1 afternoon, 1 night
  • Agriturismo in Tuscany area: half day, full day, and 2 nights
  • Rome: 3 days, 4 nights

We also squeezed in the following side/day trips:
1 afternoon in Vienna (during a long layover between our flight from Prague to Venice)
1 afternoon in Pisa (when we were traveling from Cinque Terre to Florence)

As you can see, we hit a lot of places in just 3 weeks! Though it was nice to see/experience each new destination, it was also extremely tiring having to shuffle luggage around, catching the trains/buses/flights, juggling accommodations, etc. In the end, I think we would have found it more relaxing/less stressful if we’d just stuck to, say, 4 places instead of 7. Or better yet, I wish we’d had more time off! You could easily spend a couple months exploring Italy alone. For example, we never hit Milan, or Naples, or Sicily, or Sardegna, etc. Sadly, work won’t let me take that much time off – I think I was extremely lucky to have been able to take off 3 whole weeks as it was.

After much discussion, our destinations were set – it was now time to start planning where we’d stay, what we’d see, and of course let’s not forget – what to eat 😉