This summer we had the absolutely amazing experience of taking a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea and visiting Spain, France and Italy. We started in Barcelona and ended in Rome, seeing Valencia, Ibiza, Nice, Piza and more in between. This was a dream vacation of our daughter Michaela, who graduated from high school this June, and her very generous grandmother gifted this trip to us so she could see Europe before starting college. On August 1st, my husband, Michaela and I all traveled to JFK to start our journey and we returned on August 11th.
To be very honest, it was overwhelming to think and plan for this trip. So many unknowns (we've never been to Europe before), so many things to see, so many clothes to bring, so many snafus to prepare for! I have traveled many times with our family to Disney (with toddlers, even) but this was even out of my comfort zone. Add to this prepping my daughter for her first semester of college and the MOUNDS of supplies that requires, running my businesses, and caring for my other two kids, and we just didn't have the time to prepare like I usually would have.
Now that we are back- it was amazing!!- I'm trying to reflect and add some insight to what worked, what didn't, and what I could have done better.
Before the trip:
1. Convert currency- we waited waaaaay too long to even think about this, and ended up having to convert at the airport. I erroneously thought our bank could convert dollars into Euros, and AAA takes a few days to convert. I would have felt a lot better doing it earlier and probably would have gotten more converted if I had done it ahead of time.
2. Research port stops to identify can't-miss sightseeing and places to eat- I loved Trip Advisor for this.
3. Choose excursions- via the cruise ship website.
4. Notify banks and credit card companies about international travel- I did this the day we left but you can do it earlier, too
On the Plane:
1. Travel Pillow- I invested in a travel pillow- usually I just borrow my girls' pillows
2. Book to read
4. Cash for snacks/drinks
5. Granola bars
6. Hand sanitizer, tissues and wipes- airplanes are gross
7. Ear buds- the airline gave us ear buds to listen to the integrated tv but they were pretty cheap and not super comfortable
8. External charger to charge your phone
9. Euros/converted currency
10. Passport folio to hold passport, driver's license, medical insurance cards, credit cards
In/On my suitcase:
1. Good luggage tags- Another item I bought when I got home. Relying on those paper tags made me too nervous. I got mine in neon colors from Amazon.
2. Luggage band or duct tape- so you can easily identify your bag from the 400 other black and gray suitcases
3. Packing cubes for separate outfits- this would have been great for this trip since we had one extra night in a hotel before and after the cruise. I could have placed a full outfit in a cube and not had to rifle through the whole lovingly packed suitcase. As always, you can get these on Amazon.
1. Outlet converter- so the charger, hair dryer and flat iron/curling iron works
3. Credit Cards
4. Labeled Toiletries- I usually buy the little travel bottles from Target or Walmart, but have not found a good way of labeling these bottles that is permanent- sharpie writing rubs off and the labels unstick in the shower. So I end up questioning if a bottle has body lotion or hair conditioner in it. I found travel-sized toiletry bottles that have built-in labels on Amazon... problem solved!
5. Translation app preloaded onto my phone- I have a pretty good grasp of Spanish, but my French is minimal and my Italian is non-existent. It would have been helpful just for easy common phrases.
*Just a heads up to anyone traveling to Rome in the summertime- not much there is air conditioned. And it was 96 degrees while we were there with a heat index of 105. And when you order water at a restaurant, it is tepid bottled water and you specifically have to ask for ice. I was dying.*
On the Cruise Ship:
1. Small bills of cash for room steward tip- our room steward, Paul, greeted us by name every time we saw him and he asked if we were "enjoying our holiday". Yes, Paul, we most certainly are. Please come home with us.
2. External charger to bring on excursions if your phone battery gets low from all the pics and videos you take
3. Internet access- we had Internet access for one device on our trip, and because the 17 year old needed to post her pics on Insta, Michaela's device won. I was unplugged from Internet, email and texts for a week and part of that was absolutely wonderful and part of that was tough when I was missing my other two kids at home. I would probably pay for more service on the next trip so I could FaceTime/text them when I wanted..
4. Three categories of clothing: for excursions, for being poolside, for dinner and evenings on the ship. Michaela said afterwards she didn't realize how much time we would be poolside. She wished she had brought more cover-ups, loose fitting tees and athletic shorts.
5. More books- EVERYONE reads on the cruise ship. I read 4 and a half books in a week!
6. Rough plan for outfits and shoes, including Evening Chic nights (2 of the 7 nights)- it seems a bit obsessive, but I had a rough plan for my evening outfits. The Evening Chic dress code was widely interpreted on this cruise, with some people getting very dressed up in gowns and others- not so much. I had bought two dressy jumpsuits that I paired with nice jewelry and that worked great- comfortable but appropriate.
7. Euros for meals off the ship, souvenirs, and tips for excursion guides
8. The cruise line's app for calendar of events and menus- we used this app ALL THE TIME on the cruise
9. Sunscreen!! The sun is really strong on and off the ship.
10. A good size bag for long excursion days or trips to a local beach
Obviously, this is not an end all/be all list of what to pack, just some suggestions that I discovered from doing a trip of this magnitude. I tend to pack quite light and leave smaller creature comforts at home (I had one large suitcase, my husband had-ahem- a large suitcase, garment bag and a carry on piece of luggage) so I don't have to lug stuff around. Taking a vacation via cruise also relieves lots of decision making while providing you with excellent help if you need/forgot something. Our cruise ship especially had beautiful Tiffany jewelry available in case you left yours at home. :)
We loved, loved, loved our cruise line- we used Celebrity- and this itinerary was filled with so many beautiful places it was overwhelming. I highly recommend it. Feel free to message me if you have any questions about what we saw and experienced.
What are YOUR traveling must-haves?