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I spent May 16-31 in Prague. I had the wonderful experience of living in a neighborhood with a couple for the entire time. My experience was heightened by not staying in a hotel (that would’ve been very much like staying anywhere in the States) and not doing ONLY tourist-y things. The couple I lived with for 2 weeks are expats from their relative countries, have lived in Prague for 3 years, and one of them is a diplomat. If you have friends in places where you aren’t (even in your home country), I wholly recommend staying with them instead of in a hotel, or rent an apartment for a short period of time. The experience you get from living with the locals is enriched by the fact that they know all of the best spots to eat, shop, drink, and dance. They know the shortcuts through the tourist-packed places you’ll definitely still want to see.
Learn the Language
I was told I didn’t need to learn much Czech before I went: please (prosim), thank you (dekuji), and may I please have…?(mohu mit…). This turned out to be very very wrong. I needed to know more. Before I left, I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Prague & The Czech Republic and the Lonely Planet Czech Phrasebook & Dictionary. I’m keen on picking up languages by sight, but I needed an audio tutor for learning to speak Czech. This language is so complicated, even the native speakers have a hard time. I should have bought the Pimsleur Czech Basic Course, and maybe the Conversational Course as well. I didn’t. You can get by on only English, but it’s much more difficult than it might have been had I known more than those three phrases…that I never used.
While I’m talking about speaking the language, restaurace is definitely a restaurant, but it’s said rest-OW-rah-tzee. As I looked over the phrasebooks on my 7-hour flight, I saw that there are more than several ways to pronounce letter combinations. I speak German and Italian, and the German definitely came in handy for some things. In the neighborhood where I stayed, some labels on products in the Albert were also printed in German. Almost none of the labels had English on them, no matter where I was in the city. I was told that most people speak English, and that’s probably true, but most of them won’t willingly speak it with you. I found that using German got me farther.
Take Your Passport
It goes without saying that you’ll have your passport with you. You should take it with you everywhere. Not only is it the best means of identification, if you show it to cashiers when you shop, you get a neat little form to fill out, which gives back the VAT (value added tax) you paid, upon exiting the country. How great is that? Rick Steves has a great article on how and when to claim your VAT.
Take Off Your Shoes
Remove your shoes as soon as you’re in the door. If you don’t like walking around in bare or stocking feet, pack a pair of house shoes (ladies and fellas these are reasonably priced and easy to pack). Literally everybody takes off their shoes when they enter a house. Even the engineer and landlord took off their shoes when they came in to fix the dishwasher while I was there. It was no problem for me, because I’m barefoot most of the time anyway. Just know that it’s commonplace to remove your shoes when you get home.
Supermarkets Aren’t Super
At the supermarkets in Prague, there’s food in their supremarkets. Well, maybe there’s a tiny section of soaps and floss, but usually it’s just food. There are a few stores that are similar to our Walmart stores. If you want to find something that we might find at a supermarket in the states, you have to go to a drug store. My favorite is the drogerie markt (dm). They have all variety of personal care products, even some that are familiar to the products I see in the States, and some really great products that I never see in the States. Europe gets some really great things in their stores.
Grocery Shop Anyway
I love to grocery shop, especially in unfamiliar places. I had a reasonable degree of luck just guessing what things were, and most of what I bought tasted fantastic. Pork and pork products are huge in Prague, because of the low processing time for the meat. There was chicken and beef, though I didn’t see fish unless it was in the form of sticks. Their sausages are amazing, as are their pork chops. Their meat is all local, too, and so not as expensive as you might see it in the States. I regularly bought sausages, cheeses, pork steaks, and lunch meat that may or may not have been roast beef. The jury is still out, but it was cured and delicious, and I didn’t get ill. I was surprised by one pack of Eidam I bought, because it was smoke flavored, and man was it delicious!
The produce is very affordable, too. A note about fresh produce: you have to put your items on the scale in each produce area and print your own label before taking it to the checkout. If you don’t, they will kick you out of line and make you go do it. I bought leeks, tomatoes of all sizes, garlic, cucumber, bananas, peaches, and tons of citrus. I ate a tangerine or mandarin a day, something that it’s much too pricey to do in the States.
Their spices seem to center around garlic, pepper of all colors, caraway, allspice, paprika, juniper berries, mustard, horseradish, and ginger. You can find all of the spices in the bigger stores, but the tiny Albert by my hosts’ home carried the bare minimum – only the most popular. Still, I got by, and was able to make Easy Peasy Peach Cobbler, Savory Sausage and Leek Cobbler, and Cheesy Garlic Soda Biscuits.
Buy A SIM
It is MUCH cheaper in most cases to buy a sim compatible with the country you travel in. I went to Vodafone and got 4.5Gb of data for $20, compared to $40 added to my phone bill and only giving me 100 minutes of calls, 100 texts, and 1.5Gb of data. Make sure you have your phone company unlock your phone before you go, so that you can do this. You may think you can just buy a burner phone when you get there, but don’t. The electronics in the States are much less expensive than they are overseas. However, the phone plans are less expensive there than here.
This is also where getting a Google Voice number becomes handy. There is WiFi everywhere, and if you set up the Hangouts app on your phone, it uses data like a VOIP, instead of minutes on your cell. The number is free, and I added $10 to my account 6 years ago, have called to/from another continent several times, and still have $9.89 in credit.
Take Cash to Exchange
Even if it’s only $100, take cash with you. Most places will accept your bank card, but at street fairs and street vendors, they take cash only. If you exchange your cash in the city versus at the airport, you will get a much better exchange rate, as well.
**A note about bank cards** I have Capital One, so I have zero fees for using my cards overseas. You will want to check with your bank before you go to see what their fees are, and to let them know you will be overseas.
Count on Public Transport
If anyone has public transportation on lock, it’s Europe. Blocks from where I was at any given time in Prague, I was able to catch the Metro, bus, tram, or train. They also have taxis, but they’re not necessary. You can even text for tickets to ride. If you’re buying tickets for the public transportation system, buy the 24Kc tickets. They allow you a full 30 minutes on the system, in every direction. I found that buying tickets for longer time frames is largely unnecessary, but if you find yourself on the bus for longer than 30 minutes, you can simply text for another 30.
If you have the ability to do laundry, packing light becomes easier. Plus, it leaves more room in your bag for tchotchkes. As luck (?) would have it, we had to use the laundromat, but we got all the laundry done in an hour or so, and for not much money. We used Prague Andy’s Laundromat. The staff was courteous and helpful. They have computers and WiFi for free for patron use, and it’s within walking distance to public transportation and food.
I didn’t need to take all of my toiletries. We can’t take razors on planes anyway. Most hotels have the necessities for free, and the drugstores have normal-sized products – that you can leave behind – for the same price as you’re going to pay for sample sizes in the states. You can get by with facial cleansing cloths and a deodorant stick – both you can carry on, and don’t (usually) have to pull out at airport security.
Don’t Forget These Essentials
- Take a camera, not just your phone.
- Snacks in case you’re trapped in the airport for long periods of time. Most airports will let you take unopened food through security, as long as it’s not produce. You can’t usually take beverages through, but you can buy a water on the other side (for reuse), or take your own water bottle with you. Make sure it’s empty before you go through security. It’s worth the investment, and many places have bottle fountains.
- An extra pair of socks and undergarments. Pack how you would normally pack, and then stash the extras in your purse or backpack. If you’re forced to check your luggage, and it gets lost or delayed, you’ll want clean underthings.
- A backpack to stash your purse in. I carry on as much as I am allowed, and don’t check a bag unless it’s free or I’m forced to. I have a hard-side suitcase with 4 wheels as my carry-on luggage (doubles as a chair when the seats are all full), and I carry a matching backpack with the things I’ll want during the flight. When it’s time to go through security and board the plane, I stash my purse in my backpack, so that I have the allowable number of items, and can easily reach my purse during flight.
- An extra charging cable.
- A travel adapter. Preferably one you can plug your charging cable into with the required plug. I had this one, and it was a pain in the butt. Nothing charged very fast, and I couldn’t plug other things into it. I’ve bought the other one since, because I can’t stand having to wait for things to charge.
Disconnect & Enjoy Yourself
I’m serious about this. Everyone is so connected all the time, even me. I’m overactive on social media. So overactive that I decided to (mostly) stay off social media while I was overseas. I still posted and shared my blog content, uploaded pictures, and interacted with people. I just did it less. When your business and lifestyle rely on the ability to be connected 24/7, taking more than 12 hours completely off can have some pretty serious repercussions. Since I couldn’t afford to be completely absent, I decided to be much less active than normal. I figured I’d keep my relevancy and not lose people because my posts weren’t fresh. As it turns out, it was a fantastic decision. Because this was partially a business trip and partially a personal adventure, I took hundreds (thousands?) of pictures and videos, and just waited to edit and upload them. It gave me more time to interact with my hosts and the public. I was able to connect with the humans in my immediate area, and have conversations and fun that I would have missed had I been constantly on my phone.
Other Travel Hacks
- Use the floor plugins by your gate to charge your electronics. I was always able to find an outlet that way.
- Volunteer if they want you to check a bag or bump someone from a flight. I was treated incredibly well because I would volunteer to be cooperative.
- If you’re traveling overseas from the United States, check prices on international airlines as well. I was able to get the airfare for this Prague trip for $700 total – round trip – instead of the $1500 + taxes and fees advertised by domestic airlines.
- Keep hand sanitizer and tissues with you at all times.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – especially if you’re going on a long-haul flight (+5 hours). You can still drink in-flight, but make sure you balance with water, and consume enough before and after. This will help ease jet lag, too.
What travel tips do you have? Share them with us in the comments!