Deciding on Romania for our honeymoon last year was kind of a no-brainer.
I mean, it was pretty easy. I’d always wanted to go, my husband loved the idea, and it was generally pretty affordable. I did the math and the amount of money we’d need for the trip (something to the tune of $3000, I want to say) wouldn’t have gone nearly as far in New York City or Disney World. So why not jet abroad, see a new country, and do something crazy for three weeks?
It was a great idea, but the preparation process was stressful. Neither of us had ever been out of the country before, and though I’d spent an embarrassing amount of time looking at Bucharest on Google Street View (shut up, it’s a hobby) I knew nothing about planning a trip abroad. I asked some friends, and I asked google, but really it just seemed not too different from planning a trip in the United States: we picked where we wanted to go, we tried to make a plan, and we tried to make a budget.
Phase One: The Googling
Oh, the googling. There was so much googling. I can’t even begin to articulate how much time I spent on Google.
I ended up on blogs (of which there were few for Romania, hence why we’re here now,) TripAdvisor, a number of travel sites I’d never been on. I tried to find suggestions for activities from people who had been more recently than 2015 (also surprisingly impossible) and tried to find out what the “must see” things were in Romania. I already knew about a few things, like Castle Peleş, Castle Bran, the Palace of the Parliament, and so on, but my research revealed a whole world of things I had no idea existed: tours of the residence of Romania’s former dictators, salt mines with amusement parks deep under the ground, fortified churches, day trips to Bulgaria—okay, that one’s not in Romania, but it did give me a reminder of where we were, exactly: Eastern Europe. Not in Kansas anymore, as it were. Or Wisconsin. Whatever.
The point is, we spent a lot of time making a huge list of everything we wanted to do and then prioritized what the most important parts were. My husband and I decided we were less interested in the big tourist destinations (though we obviously visited a few) and were more interested in things like eating delicious food and going to concerts, both of which we managed to do with great success.
Phase Two: The Booking
Though we ended up booking a lot of our things in advance, other things came more last minute. There are some things I wish we’d booked further in advance (like the aforementioned dictator home tour) and other things that we really didn’t need to book ahead (like our AirBnB for Sighişoara, since we ended up with a change of plans) but ultimately I’m glad we decided to book a few things in advance.
I also did a lot of research on which airline to take based on our needs and where we wanted to go and what time we’d arrive. I’ll go ahead and tell you right now, the options for flying into Bucharest from Chicago are not great as far as timing goes, and most of the flights either arrive late at night or early in the morning (which is going to be hell for jet lag I can only assume, but I’ll report back on that in… oh, four weeks or so) so we ended up settling for a five hour layover in Zurich, and a 19 hour layover in Zurich on our return trip.
Glamorous? Oh, hell no. We were so tired after that five hour layover and there’s nothing like going 24 hours without sleep and having someone yell at you in German (only for you to later find out that they were just commenting on the weather) but, really, I’m glad we did our research and got there when we did. We ended up with a nice flight that arrived in the afternoon so we had time to explore and eat and then crash hard.
Phase Three: The Itinerary
Last but not least, I made a pretty hardcore itinerary. I love itineraries, I think they’re immensely helpful, and even though we didn’t necessarily stick to the itinerary 100% it made me feel so much better to have a plan. I knew where we were going, how we were getting there, and how much it was going to cost. I knew that we had enough time to eat, and so on. It turned out to be a huge life saver to be able to just pull out our itinerary and be like “oh, we have this much time left!”
The other huge benefit to the itinerary was that it helped keep us focused. My husband and I were both pretty overwhelmed by arriving in a foreign country and having to figure everything out, but having that plan let us remember all the fun things we wanted to do. If not for the itinerary, we might have forgotten about some of the off-the-beaten-path places that were on the list. It’s easy to get distracted by all of the shiny things and miss something that you really wanted to do.
Overall, I think we did pretty good with the planning, but now that I’m planning another trip it’s given me a lot to learn from. Still, I think these three things were a pretty big takeaway for what to do and what not to do while organizing an overseas trip.
Do you have any advice for fellow travelers? Did any of this help you? Be sure to leave a note in the comments!