Feature Friday: Meet Nicole Alhakawati

Not many Americans are prepared to travel to Europe and other countries for leisure.  It is very common to meet people who have never left the US.  Traveling overseas doesn't have to be overwhelming to be an enjoyable experience

Meet Nicole Alkhawati, an American who has traveled to Europe.  She has agreed to give tips on preparing a trip overseas.

 Faten Abdallah (FA): What kinds of preparation was needed to travel to Europe? 
Nicole Alkhawati (NA): In order to travel to Europe, you need to have a valid passport and some planning skills.  I start saving money and planning an itinerary at least one year in advance.  I knew I wanted to go with my high school senior after her graduation, so I was able to plan with that in mind.  We looked at many websites about places to visit in England and France, which were our target areas.  We made lists of the places we wanted to visit and were able to make an itinerary based on those locations.  Trip Advisor is a good site to read recommendations from other people about what they enjoyed and didn't like about their trip.  We were also able to use our credit card points to buy discounted plane tickets and book hotels.  Getting a reward credit card is a great idea for planning these kinds of trips.

FA: How long should someone plan in advance to travel overseas?  
NA: The time for planning will depend on how many of your family are going with you and how much money is needed to save.  You can save money on hotels and train transportation if you book early.  I saved a lot on the EuroStar train, which is the high speed train that travels between Paris and London, by buying more than six months in advance.  Also, never book visits or buy tickets with the concierge at the hotels.  You can save a lot of money by using the computer in the business lounge or by buying all tickets online before your visit.  A good example is Disneyland Paris.  The concierge was offering an adult ticket at 80 Euros.  I went on the French website for the park and found that there was a Summer deal.  I called the park number and was able to book the tickets at 59 Euros each and picked them up at the Guest Services desk.  They only had to be booked one day in advance to get the deal.  

FA: What were your thoughts before visiting Europe?  
NA: I had been to Europe before as a teenager, so I knew what to expect, but my teenage daughter had never been there.  I wanted to make the trip memorable for her as well as for myself.  I did have some safety concerns about traveling at this time after there have been several attacks in France.  Being a Muslim, was an added concern.  I was pleasantly surprised that I did not feel at risk while there and I was welcomed in every place that we visited.  

FA: What places did you visit in Europe?  What was your favorite? 
NA: We arrived in Paris and took the EuroStar train to London the next day.  We did the sights in London for two days and then took a train to Bristol to spend the night in a castle!  We stopped in Bath, to see the Roman Baths and then made our way to the coast to take an overnight ferry back to France.  I had my former Rotary Exchange host family pick us up in Brittany and we spent several days with them before returning to Paris.  My favorite part of the trip was spending time in regular neighborhoods and grocery stores with my host family.  We saved a lot of money buying food gifts from regular stores and we were able to get out of the harried tourist trap areas that most people visit.  I enjoyed the touristic sites, but I also really just wanted to relax during our trip and not be rushed.  
FA: What have you learned about yourself as a traveler? 
NA: I learned that I enjoyed the trip much more as an adult than as a youngster.  Perhaps I could appreciate the trip more and I knew the value of it?  I also learned that it is good know what kind of traveler you will be spending your time with on the voyage.  It turned out that my daughter did not enjoy walking a lot and climbing stairs, though she wanted to see ancient sites.  She didn't realize that being at those sites took a lot of energy and walking.  Be forewarned that Europe is not as handicapped friendly as the US and most metro and Underground stops did not have but stairs for access.  Even Disneyland Paris was much less accessible than the US counterpart.

FA: Why should Americans travel abroad? 
NA: Americans should travel abroad because 'old' in the US just can't compare to old in Europe or other countries.  We need to get outside of our comfort zone to appreciate how clean and organized our life is in the US.  We can better appreciate our blessings when we head outside and walk the streets of other nations.  

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