By Risa E. Patterson |
Europe can be intimidating if one is traveling there for the first time. There are language barriers to overcome, cultural differences to navigate, public transit systems to conquer, pickpockets to thwart, and of course the dreaded undertow of jet lag. Do not fear—there is so much to be gained by travel, and these potential barriers are just gateways to new adventures.
Here are some general European travel tips for first-time travelers:
- Most public bathrooms require payment for use, usually around €0.50. If you happen to find a free bathroom while on the go, take advantage of it!
- Food service in Europe is not based on tips (although leaving Euro or two after a meal is appropriate), hence the service is often slower and less attentive. The upside of this is that no one is rushing you to get up from your table, so take the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely meal.
- Be aware of your surroundings! Nothing throws a wrench into the works like getting pickpocketed. Make photocopies of important travel documents, especially your passport, and have both a physical and digital copy. Keep your wallet, phone, camera, and any other important assets where a thief cannot easily reach them, and keep an eye on your things at all times.
- Hotels can be expensive, and hostels are great for young travelers, but for my money, AirBnb.com is a great resource for booking lodgings that are inexpensive, central, and more often than not a host who is willing to give you tips about what to do in the area.
- If you’re hitting up multiple cities by train, make sure to book tickets online; during peak travel season, trains often get booked up ahead of time.
- Try to learn some of the local language, even if it’s just how to say “excuse me,” “sorry,” “hello,” and “goodbye.” For instance, despite knowing next to no French, all of the reputedly “rude” Parisians I met exhibited nothing but patience and kindness to me when I made even a little effort to speak French. Making just a little effort to respect the local culture and language goes a long way.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Most locals are more than happy to offer advice or directions.
- Here’s my big European travel tip: Eat local food! As long as it’s within your dietary restrictions, the stranger the better. Enjoy blood sausage in Madrid, escargot in Paris, a waffle in Brussels, and gelato in Italy. Trying new and exciting local cuisine is one of the most amazing parts of traveling to a new place—don’t let it pass you by!
- If you’ve only got a few days, the temptation to do a breakneck tour of a centuries-old city is strong, but it’s important to remember to make quality a priority over quantity. Don’t get burned out trying to do everything—it’s not possible. Prioritize and do a few things each day, and make sure to allow yourself time to smell the roses. Enjoy a coffee or glass of wine on the terrace of a lovely restaurant. Walk to a vista that allows you to see the entire city. You’ll look back just as fondly on these still, serene moments as you will at your time spent in a museum.
- The most important thing you can do to ensure a good vacation is to Have A Good Attitude! My motto when something unexpected, inconvenient, or stressful happens is: “Huh, okay!” Server seemingly ignoring your presence? Confusing transit signage make you miss your train? The landmark you wanted to visit is closed for repairs? Something is more expensive, or of lower quality than you’re used to? “Huh, okay!” Traveling with a roll-with-the-punches perspective when things go wrong will ensure a much more enjoyable journey. After all, if you wanted to stay in your comfort zone, you could have stayed at home.
Whether it’s for a honeymoon, a family vacation, or just an excuse to see another part of the world, travel is good for the soul. As Billy Joel said, “Vienna waits for you” — and so does the rest of Europe.