My First International Trip

Traveling has become a new joy and passion in my life. Traveling wasn’t really something I grew up doing very often, so I didn’t really know what I was missing. Honestly, it wasn’t until I was an adult when I learned that experiences are just as joyful as getting a new outfit. So, now I am going full steam ahead on traveling as a way of incorporating more joyful experiences into my everyday life. 

One of those experiences was taking my first international trip to Madrid, Spain and London, England. This past summer I got the opportunity to join my leadership team on a work trip. I was super excited to go on this trip to see my team in Europe, see the historic architecture, especially Buckingham Palace, maybe go to a museum as well as to get my first stamps in my passport. But, I was super nervous as well. 

So why was I nervous? Well, first I didn’t know what to expect. Whether right or wrong, I heard so much about Americans being taken advantage of while traveling abroad. Also, not knowing whether I was going to navigate through the cities on my own or whether I could access and use my phone which I really rely on while traveling. I was also nervous about getting Covid. I managed to get through the last two years without getting sick, so I was nervous I would get sick while traveling. 

I’ll be frank, these concerns didn’t subside until I landed in Madrid and got to the hotel. If I were being honest, if this wasn’t a work trip, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Yes, I realize I’m a bit of a pansy but now that I have gone and returned safely, gosh I feel silly for being so nervous. I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to navigate the cities and how welcoming people were. I mean my Uber driver in Madrid was 5-star. She waited 3-hours for me while I went through customs, and even though she didn’t speak English, she thoughtfully gave me a couple recommendations using her translator.

The Planning & Logistics

The benefit of going on my first international trip for work was having the logistics planned out for me and having team members who live in those cities, so if I had any questions or concerns, I had experts to help me. In addition, traveling for work provided me with a few travel companions, which totally helped me feel more comfortable exploring cities I didn’t know. 

Once I got past my anxiety, I realized that preparing for my trip required more planning than “what I was going to wear”, there were so many things I had to think about. 

Priority number one, my passport. It wasn’t set to expire until July of this year and my trip was in June, so I was like I’ll be ok, right? Wrong! You need at least 3 months between the trip date and expiration date. Who knew that? Did you? Ha, I sure didn’t. It’s a good thing a team member mentioned something to me because I needed to renew my passport, ASAP. If you need more information on passport renewal, go to the State Department website HERE (include link). 

Next was COVID protocols. Thankfully, we are now past all the Covid restrictions and guidelines but during my trip in June, Covid was still a major concern and required planning. So, I had to do my research on what is required to enter Spain and England. In addition, I needed to get TSA approved Covid tests in order to return home. Not so fun fact, I got Covid while in London so sadly I was stuck for an additional week. I will share a bit about my experience below.

What I Loved

I loved the Hoxton Shoreditch in London. It is a swanky full service hotel with friendly staff and the most amazing Mac & Cheese. I truly recommend going to the London Tower. It is a self guided tour of the iconic castle and the home of the Crown Jewels. On my wish list while in London was to visit Buckingham Palace. While there I was very fortunate to see the changing of the guard. Which was a super cool and unique experience. You really have to time your visit well to see it. I gotta say the palace was even more spectacular than pictures can describe. The Queen was also onsite as displayed by the Royal Standard. While in Madrid, I truly recommend Casa Suecia. We hosted our team dinner there. Their rooftop is spectacular. I also loved walking through town with my team. We went to Plaza Mayor and Royal Palace of Madrid as well as walked through the multiple parks throughout Madrid. I think what I loved most about being in these cities was the amazing palaces. They are spectacular and something we don’t have in the U.S. 

What I Learned

Now that I am home, there are few things I’ve learned and would definitely do before my next big trip 

First, I would do some research on jet lag and how to prevent it. I was slammed with jet lag on day 1. As a result, I missed an extra day of exploring Madrid. I spent most of the day after landing sleeping and didn’t have much energy to leave the hotel.

Second, I would do more research on London and properly plan my off-day itineraries, so I could see all the items I wanted to see. I got lost trying to find Princess Diana’s Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park and missed it. I also wanted to take a tour of Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral both required time and planning. So, I missed going in because I ran out of time. 

Third, I would research restaurants in Madrid and London to dine at, so I could experience the cuisines of both cities. One of the things I think are important about traveling is embracing the local food. And I definitely wanted more of that!

Finally, I would study more on the history and culture of both cities so I could truly appreciate the cities I was visiting. I really only learned a pinch about Madrid and London while there from my team members who were sharing with me about their cities. In the end, I missed out on a great opportunity.

The Reality of Getting COVID while abroad:

I was so nervous about getting Covid while traveling and thought I did everything I could to prevent it but in the end I got it. WAAH! I guess it was inevitable considering one of my team members got it and I sat across from her at dinner. I first thought I was just jet lagged and dealing with the dry air from the air conditioners in my hotel, then I thought it was just a cold because I didn’t have a fever, but I was wrong and the test proved it. It was 24-hours before I was scheduled to fly home and I had to take my TSA approved Covid test as required to return home and “Uh Oh” it was positive. Now, at that time I couldn’t fly home until I had a negative test, so I spent the next four hours, yes four hours, rescheduling my flight. I was so glad that I preemptively extended my stay at my hotel for another week. For some crazy reason hotels in London were sold out but when my team member tested positive, I went ahead and extended my hotel, just in case. I knew that I could check out early if I was able to fly home as scheduled, so there was no harm.

Here are things that worked in my favor:

  • Hotel had laundry service so I was able to extend the items I packed. 
  • Hotel was only a few blocks from the local pharmacy to get some over the counter medicine to help with the symptoms
  • Hotel had onsite restaurant for room service so I could quarantine as much as I could
  • Team members were super helpful in case I needed anything

Although I had some things working in my favor, my experience with Covid while abroad was pretty miserable. 

  • Being isolated for so long was pretty emotional, I broke down quite a bit
  • Day 5 I had trouble taking a deep breath from the chest pressure. Had to call my doctor who recommended I locate the local urgent care, update the front desk and find the emergency phone number (999-112)  in case I needed an ambulance.  

By day 6, I was feeling a bit better. Most of my symptoms were subsiding and I was able to get outside to walk around and get some air. I remained masked and did some outside touring of the city. Thankfully by day 8, I was able to fly home masked and without testing because the U.S. policies regarding Covid had lifted. 

Looking back on my trip, I feel silly about being so nervous about traveling internationally. Well, I don’t feel silly worrying about Covid, that sucked, but the other stuff I worried about was unnecessary. I truly loved spending time with my colleagues outside of the office and learning more about their culture. It was so lovely seeing the team sparkle when they were sharing parts of their city with me. I was so grateful to spend extra time with my team members who have become great friends. I look forward to being more adventurous on my next international trip, maybe going back to London or eating my way through Italy because the experiences of exploring another country and culture are memories I can’t put into words. 

Until next time, have a joy filled day.

Are you a world traveler? Do you have a favorite city you can recommend? I would love to hear your thoughts on where I should go next, please share in the comments below.

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