So you’re thinking about taking that dream European vacation, good for you! Having lived and traveled extensively throughout Europe, I’ve learned a thing or two about traveling in Europe and am happy to share some important tips for your travels.
1. No Ugly Americans
Please try to remember that you are representing the United States when you travel. Don’t be the ugly American tourist! Europeans speak more quietly than Americans, so when traveling in Europe lower your voice and don’t be obnoxious. Dress appropriately, remember to cover your shoulders and legs in churches, shorts and tank tops are not allowed in many churches in Europe.
Also, don’t expect everyone to speak English, or complain when they don’t. Try to learn some basic phrases like please, thank you, where is the toilet, hello and good-bye before you go. Believe me, it will go a long way!
2. Free Tours
Take advantage of free city walking tours, every city has one. Check with your hotel or the tourist office for available tours. City walking tours are a fantastic way to get to know your way around, learn a little bit of history from a local, and meet fellow travelers.
Switch your iPhone to airplane mode and turn on WiFi while there. That way you won’t use any data and will avoid a ridiculous cellular bill when you return! Some carriers offer international travel plans, be sure to check those out too.
However, free WiFi is available everywhere. Take a break at a café or bar and get the WiFi password to check in with social media or friends. I use a great app called Free WiFi. It’s community based and provides passwords to public WiFi in thousands of locations worldwide. For more great smartphone apps while traveling check out Awesome Travel Apps
Be sure to check opening times and days for museums, churches, and attractions. Many museums are closed on Mondays in Italy. As Americans, we are not aware of national holidays in Europe, so check online before going. Better yet, buy tickets to major tourist sites online before going to avoid long lines.
5. Follow the Rules
Be sure to obey the rules in museums and attractions. Don’t be the jerk that sneaks photos in the Sistine Chapel. Or the Statue of David, yep I did that one and got yelled at in front of a huge crowd (oops). Of course my teenagers were mortified, but then again everything parents do embarrasses their teens right?
6. Eat Like a Local
Walk off the beaten path to find restaurants, pubs and bistros that locals frequent. The food and atmosphere will be way more authentic and so much better than the tourist traps close to major sites. Forget going to any restaurant with pictures on the menus displayed outside, they SCREAM tourist and the food usually sucks. Stay away from restaurants close to major sites like St. Mark’s Square or the Eiffel Tower, just walk a few streets away for a better experience.
For God’s sake don’t eat at McDonald’s or Burger King, or even Starbuck’s for that matter. Try the local coffee instead, it’s much better in France and Italy. After all, traveling is about broadening your horizons. If you can’t live without your Big Mac or Vente Cinnamon Dolce Latte every day, you should probably just stay home.
7. Drink Table Wine
Seriously, the local red and white table wine is fantastic and very affordable. Especially in France, Spain, or Italy, it’s usually a great local wine. There’s no need to spend a fortune on an expensive bottle of wine. Same goes for water, you can safely drink the water almost anywhere in Europe.
8. Take it Easy
Try not to cram too much into your day. Be sure to relax, observe and enjoy. Take an afternoon stroll in a park, sit on a bench, or plant yourself at an outdoor café. Whatever you do, don’t try to plan on visiting too many cities or countries during your trip. I never understand how people do those whirlwind trips visiting 20 cities in 10 days…crazy!
9. Be Careful
Watch your belongings and be aware of your surroundings. I don’t mean to scare you, but pick pockets are out there, especially in high tourist areas and subways in big cities. Ladies when traveling in Europe (in big cities) bring a crossbody bag with a zipper closure, put your valuables in the inside pocket and hang on to the bag in crowded areas. Men should get a front pocket wallet chained to belt loops. Also, keep most of your cash in the hotel safe and only carry what you will need for the day.
Don’t walk around with your phone in your hand, I’ve seen too many snatched away. My husband and I bring different credit cards, just in case one gets stolen. However, many cards now provide each authorized user with a different credit card number so that solves that problem!
10. Public Toilets
Important tip: Public toilets often cost money in European cities! When traveling in Europe, carry some coins and expect to pay. Some cost 20 cents, some 50 or 70 cents or even a whole Euro. Use the restroom in restaurants, museums, department stores, etc. instead. Just don’t be shocked if you have to pay to enter. Train stations usually charge for toilets. Many restrooms in Germany have an attendant, who cleans up after every person and keeps a tip jar on display!
11. VAT Refund
Claim your VAT (value added tax) refund when you leave. If you do a lot of shopping (like me), you are able to obtain a refund on the VAT you paid, as long as you are a non-resident. Be sure to save your receipt and ask the store cashier for a VAT tax refund form. Bring the completed forms and receipts with you to the airport upon departure and head to the VAT Refund Counter to get cash back. Best part is you can go to the Duty Free shop afterwards and spend more on tax free goodies!
12. Plan B
Always have a Plan B, or C and D! Shit happens and you may need to alter your plan. Strikes are common in Europe and can screw up all of your plans. If you’re taking a bus to the airport and the bus drivers are on strike, try a subway, shuttle, or taxi instead. One good thing is that strikes are always announced ahead of time, so check the local news beforehand.
If you’re planning to go, check out Tips Before Traveling to Europe and 20 Europe Bucket List Experiences Relax, eat, drink, laugh, and enjoy! You’ll have a fantastic time with the proper attitude. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Travel on!