There were a few things I wanted to include in my previous posts about our trip to Europe that I left out because they didn’t seem to really fit. When you’re straddling the fence between being an all-out travel guide and simply sharing your experiences, some of these tips or notes don’t really have a place. Here are 20 travel tips from our recent trip to Holland and Belgium that I hope others will find helpful when it comes to packing, planning, and exploring.
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5 Best Purchases For Our Trip
- Our CabinZero Backpacks Taking large backpacks instead of suitcases made our trip so much easier. You can read my full review and see my packing list here: CabinZero Backpack Review.
- Packing Cubes I already had one set of these Travelon Packing Cubes before our trip but knew that they would make packing and organizing our bags so much easier, so I purchased a second set. I found them (both times) at TJ Maxx, but I’ve also found them on Amazon.com ($19). (TJ Maxx had them for $14.) We each used three bags and it seemed to be enough. You can see them in use toward the bottom of this post; all shirts were rolled to fit and reduce wrinkles.
- Inflatable Neck Pillows By using backpacks for our travels, we didn’t have a lot of room for “extra” things. I knew we would want to try to sleep on our flights but also knew our fluffy neck pillows were going to take up too much room for how little we’d need them. I ordered a two-pack of these Lewis & Clark inflatable neck pillows from Amazon and they were perfect; they hardly took up any space and could be inflated in just a few breaths. ($20 for 2)
- International USB Plug Since we didn’t take our computers, the only thing we needed to use a power outlet for in Europe were our iPhone chargers, which only require USB port plugs. Be sure to take any international converters you might need, but this was all we needed and it worked perfectly.
- Camera Lens Okay, so I didn’t buy a new camera lens, but I did rent one from BorrowLenses.com. I wanted a single, compact lens that I could use for this trip that wouldn’t take up too much space or weigh too much, but would also take really great photos. A Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF lens was perfect for nearly every situation on my trip and is what I used for all of the photos you’ve seen here from me over the past month or so. A two week rental cost me less than $80 (including 2-way express shipping) and easily convinced me that this is the next lens I need to invest in.
5 Things I Carried in My Carry-On
- Ziplock of Necessities Working within TSA restrictions, I always have a little Ziplock bag with me that contains some things I might need on the plane. Here are all my little in-flight necessities: EOS Lipbalm (I love the vanilla mint!); mini pack of tissues; pack of gum; travel size Aveeno naturals lotion; travel size hand sanitizer; contact case full of solution (I also carry my glasses in my carry-on); a small pack of makeup remover wipes. Finally, I also throw in a smaller Ziplock bag of a few loose medicines: Advil, Claratin, and melatonin. The melatonin was great for helping me get some sleep on the flight (and while dealing with jetlag).
- Tablet with Amazon Prime Videos We have an Amazon Prime account which includes a large library of movies and TV shows. With no Wi-Fi or in-flight entertainment on our flights, I charged up an old Android tablet we rarely use and downloaded a bunch of episodes and movies for offline use. I had never used this feature of our Prime account before, but we were so thankful to have some sort of entertainment on the flights. (I didn’t want the bulk of carrying books and don’t download them digitally.) We watched half of the first season of The Americans and wish we’d downloaded the entire season.
- Electronics I have a little zip pouch that I keep all of our electronic odds and ends in, then just grab the entire thing when we travel. Inside I keep our earbuds, a jack splitter (such a must-have to share a device!), phone chargers, tablet charger, and international adapters. Of course I also toss in my iPod.
- Things to Keep Warm I’m always cold, so I definitely know I’ll be cold on a plane. I always carry a pair of warm socks and a black scarf in my carry-on so I can keep warm. For this trip I wore my Tieks through the airport, so having the socks to put on later was a must.
- Snacks and Water Our flights didn’t offer any free snacks or drinks, so I made my own little bag of treats. This included a few Kind bars, Clif bars, and Goldfish crackers. I’m also obsessed with my S’well water bottle, so I took that through security empty and then filled it up at a shop in the airport.
5 Things I’m Glad I Booked in Advance
- Tickets to the Anne Frank House The Anne Frank House is a must-see in Amsterdam, but you probably won’t be able to see it unless you buy your tickets online in advance. We witnessed hours-long lines of people waiting in the rain just to try to get a ticket after 3:30pm; any entry before that time must be reserved with an online ticket. (This is a new requirement that started May 1, 2016.) Do yourself a favor and make sure you have this taken care of at least 4-8 weeks before your trip.
- Tickets to the Rijksmuseum We made our visit to the Rijks the first activity of our day during our visit and I was so glad we had when we exited and saw the queue wrapped around the building. Crazier was the fact that this queue was just to get to the ticket counter. On busier days, there still may be a queue (because of code capacity restrictions), but by buying your ticket in advance you get to skip to the front of the line. I highly recommend going in the morning, sometime before lunch, to avoid the biggest crowds.
- Amsterdam Tram Passes I purchased two unlimited 3 day public transportation passes for Amsterdam and never had to worry about finding ticketing stations or fumbling with change. I’m usually not a fan of any “travel tickets” you find when traveling, but this one saved us money and made sense. The 3 day pass was €25 and included unlimited travel on the trams, ferries, and metro as well as train travel between Amsterdam Centraal Station and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
- Train Tickets to Belgium, then Amsterdam These could have been booked just before departure, but having the schedule ahead of time gave me peace of mind. We knew we needed to meet my friend Joke at the train station in Brussels as soon as she arrived after work, so finding the perfect departure and arrival times before we left the US gave us one less thing to worry about while in Holland. It also helped that we could plan with her exactly when and where to meet, especially since we didn’t have cell service while overseas. (Also, train travel in Europe is so cheap. A trip that distance on Amtrak would have been 4x as much.)
- Skype Credit While we didn’t have cell service overseas, we were able to call our families back home occasionally to check in and let them know where we were and how our trip was going by purchasing Skype Credit. I downloaded the Skype app to my phone and was able to use it through Wi-Fi to make calls to regular phone numbers. I only purchased the minimum of $10 in credit and somehow still have nearly $9 left, even after making at least four calls. (We only used approximately 15 minutes of call time total.) Now I have plenty of credit left for whenever I travel again.
5 Restaurants I’d Visit Again
- Moeke Rhenen, Veerplein 1, 3911 TN Rhenen, Netherlands | Moeke had fantastic sandwiches, a trendy interior, and a huge deck where you could eat overlooking the Rhine River. The friends around the table probably also had something to do with the enjoyment of our time here.
- De Orchidee, Vlaanderenstraat 105, 9000 Gent, Belgium | I have been craving this Thai wok restaurant since we left Belgium, and I’ll be sure to go back there if/when we return!
- Bakers & Roasters, Eerste Jacob van Campenstraat 54, 1072 BH Amsterdam, Netherlands | Perfect coffee, fluffy American-style pancakes, and picture-perfect eggs benedict made this one of the best breakfasts we had during our trip.
- Luden, Spuistraat 304-306, 1012 VX Amsterdam, Netherlands | We wandered in here on a whim and were not disappointed. The bitterballen were the best we had during our entire stay in Holland.
- Chipsy King, two locations in Amsterdam: Damstraat 8 and Muntplein 5 | This is simply a walk-up counter on the street, but they serve the best frites and sauces in Amsterdam (in my opinion). I’ve managed to visit both times I’ve been in Amsterdam (2/2!) and I know it’ll be something I do again.