1. Pack light!
Packing light is extremely important when going to a place you've never been before. You are going to want to buy a lot of souvenirs and you must be mindful of the weight limit for your checked bag on your return flight home. I got very lucky on my way home because my suitcase ended up weight 48.6 pounds! To save on not only space but also weight, I highly recommend packing an extra duffle bag just for souvenirs that is small enough for you to use as a carry on bag. Also, a majority of hotels do not have elevators so you will have to carry your bag up the stairs on your own. Packing basic clothing that you can wear with multiple outfits helps cut down on the number of clothes you have to pack tremendously.
2. Bring a card with a chip!
I know by now a lot of people have the chip on the debit/credit cards. However, I did not have a card that had the chip when I went on the trip. Throughout Europe, many places only have the chip and don't give you the option to swipe your card. I ran into this issue a couple of times when I was in Switzerland. It was tough and also a little embarrassing to have no choice but to put all my stuff back.
3. Be aware of your surroundings.
Being in a foreign country for the first time can be a bit of a culture shock but you have moved past it and be aware of your surroundings. There are many pickpockets around a lot of the highly populated areas. I actually experienced this when I was in France. It was our first day touring and at our first attraction, a man came up to me and tried to put a bracelet on me. While he was doing this, another man came up behind me and tried to grab my bag. When I realized what was going on I immediately pulled my bag around my side and held onto it like my life depended on it. You can still have a good time and be aware of what is going on around you.
4. Call your credit/debit card company before you leave!
A few days to a week before you depart on your trip, it is extremely important for you to call your credit/debit card companies to let them know that you will be out of the country. If you do not do this, there is a possibility that they could put a hold on your card and you will not be able to withdraw money from your account or make purchases. It's a very simple process and it only takes a few minutes. All you have to do is give them the locations you will be going to and the dates so they can flag your account. I have never had any issues and I definitely recommend doing this!
5. Have a valid passport!
When traveling abroad, you must have a valid passport. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your arrival date before they will grant you entry into their country. Always keep your passport on your person, not in your purse, when traveling just in case you are stopped by the local authorities and are required to show proper identification. If any problems occur, such as lost or stolen passport, you can go to the U.S. Embassy and they can take care of it for you by giving you a temporary passport that is valid for one year.
6. Always pay in the local currency of the country you are in.
At many stores, they will ask if you would like to pay in their local currency, like euros, or in U.S. dollars. Always pay in local currency! You get better exchange rates this way and paying in U.S. dollars will end up costing you more money in the long run. The exchange rate is significantly higher than if you paid in their local currency. I experienced this when I was in Spain. I paid in U.S. dollars and didn't realize until afterward that I was being charged a lot more than I had been in exchange fees.