I have been wanting to share some of the travel tips that have really helped my husband and I while we have been touring Europe these past 5 months. I am by no means a travel expert, just a twenty-something American who has learned a thing or two that I think others might find useful! At this point, it seems like we have been on just about every form of transportation available traveling to different cities in Europe almost every weekend. We continue to learn new things (sometimes the hard way) about getting there, keeping things affordable, and making the overall experience easier. I have put down literally everything I can think of that hopefully can help prepare those looking to travel abroad. Here is my categorized list of tried and true travel tips for staying savvy in Europe…
- Get a Charles Schwab debit card. They charge ZERO fees for international over-the-counter transactions and ATM withdrawals unlike Wells Fargo, American Express, etc. No gimmicks whatsoever. We easily got it the week before we left and it has completely saved us from horrible transaction fees. I cannot recommend this enough!
- Before leaving be sure to notify your banks. Let them know what countries you will be traveling to or else they might freeze your account which would not be good.
- Do not exchange money before leaving. You’ll be hit with much higher exchange rate. Also do not exchange inside airports. Wait until you are at your destination and away from the high rates found in the airport.
- Be aware of conversion rates. Especially when shopping. The Pound is much different from the Euro and other currencies. Pay attention and try to figure out how much you’ll actually be spending before purchasing.
- Always carry cash. So many restaurants and stores in Europe only take cash. Prepare accordingly.
- Ask for the VAT. Most department stores and major shopping places offer tourists to shop tax-free. Always ask at for the VAT at the counter and they will give you a form which you can then claim at the airport to get your money back.
- Invest in a coin purse. Unlike the US, Europeans prefer coins and it can get pretty inconvenient to store them in a slim wallet. You will also need small coins to pay for bathroom use.
- Check the expiration date on your passport. You’ll need to have it current for at least six months after the date you arrive internationally.
- Know the address of the hotel you will be staying at. Passport control can sometimes grill you on this.
- Provide a print-out of flight home information. They want to know precisely when you’ll be leaving the country and you will need proof.
- Stay calm and be respectful. Seriously, don’t mess with immigration officials. They are really tough but it will go smoothly if you stay calm and confident while they ask questions.
- Keep all travel documents in a folder. Flight info, boarding tickets, hotel reservations, passport copies, travel itinerary etc. Print it all out and keep it organized and accessible.
- Tell family members/friends where you’ll be. Just in case of an emergency.
- Travel with someone or with a group. You can definitely go alone, but it is always good to have someone else’s opinion and help. Much more safe as well.
- Stay up to date with current events. Most countries in Europe are completely safe politically, but if you have any concern you might want to check with the embassy before going.
- Don’t wear headphones while traveling. If you tune out your surroundings you will become an instant target.
- NEVER keep your wallet in your back pocket. Rookie mistake!
- Make a fake wallet. We have never had to use it, but it is a good thing to have just in case you get heckled by someone.
- Keep your purse and belongings in front of you.
- Research your surroundings and know where you are going.
- Just use common sense and you won’t have a problem!
- Book flights with skyscanner.com. Our favorite site for finding cheap flights in Europe.
- Travel off-season for better rates. This goes for hotels as well.
- Book international trains in advance. These (like Eurostar) can fill up fast, and booking in advance gives you a much lower rate.
- DONT book local/national trains in advance. We have found that it’s not always necessary which has saved us money.
- Take the underground metro. This is by far the easiest and cheapest way to get around and just about every major European city has one.
- Hold on to metro cards/tickets. They sometimes make you scan them again at the end of your journey (always the case with the London tube).
- Only bring ONE bag when flying on budget airlines. We brought backpacks. No purses, souvenir bags, etc. They literally only let you take one bag and will charge you hefty fines for anything extra. Don’t chance it.
- Only ONE Ziploc bag for liquids for budget airlines. This one was hard for me at first. Buy all liquids in travel size.
- Always check airport monitors. In Europe they usually give you the gate number for your flight only about 20 minutes before departure. You’ll have to pay attention and hurry! (I HATE this)
- Avoid taking a bus to catch a flight. Always take an express train or metro. The shuttle buses more than always make you late!
- Avoid jet lag by drinking lots of water and soaking in sunlight.
- Only book a rental car with brands that you know and trust. There are some sketchy ones all over Europe.
- Bring passport, drivers license, and flight-home information to rent a car.
- Only use a taxi if you don’t feel safe. Otherwise they are wayyy too over-priced to use all the time!
- Bring rain-resistant clothing. No matter what time of year it is, it’s just always a good idea to bring rain gear. I have really loved using this foldable and wet-proof tote.
- GOOD. SHOES. You’ll find out really fast in Europe if they are comfortable or not. Break them out before leaving and wear some that you don’t mind ruining!
- Umbrella. Always.
- Wear neutrals. If you want to blend in like a true European then don’t wear neon or any clothes that scream “I’m a tourist” you’ll stick out right away.
- Pack light. Not always easy but I have come a long way and it has really payed off!
- Use hotels.com. We have found some good ones through using this site.
- Find hotels close to the city center or metro stop. You could pay a fortune in transportation just to get into the city everyday. Sometimes it is worth a little extra to be within walking distance of where you want to primarily be.
- Look for hotels with free WiFi. Most of them will at least offer it free in the lobby which can be very helpful.
- Try a Bed & Breakfast! Super cheap. We have always had pleasant experiences doing a B&B plus, free breakfast!
- Steer clear of hotels/hostels that make you pay large deposits. We have never booked with a hotel that makes you pay a large deposit up front. It’s too risky!
- Save money by bringing non-perishable snacks from home.
- Eat breakfast/lunch by grabbing food from the supermarket. We have cut costs by getting fresh bread, cheese, and salami for lunch.. yummy too!
- Eat street food. Also inexpensive and some of the tastiest things we have had!
- Don’t sit down at a cafe unless you want to eat. They get really mad if you just want to sit.
- Order “tap” water. If you don’t specify then you’ll get a big 5 euro bottle of water added to your bill. Tap water is safe to drink in Europe and free too.
- Try authentic foods. Don’t eat Pizza Hut or any other chain in Europe when you can have it in the US. That is a long way to travel to eat at the same place you always do. Branch out and try new things!
- Be sure to buy “still” water instead of “sparkling”. There’s a big difference, and sparkling water isn’t the most refreshing in my opinion.
- Avoid tourist food traps. Always common around tourist attractions. Walk a little further and the prices almost cut in half.
- Check Yelp! reviews. We have found some of our best meals by searching on Yelp!
- Prepare for long meal times. Europeans are notorious for giving a long dining experience. If you go out to eat, plan to be there a while, and expect slow and relaxed service.
- Order a food card. We tried the Tastecard in London, and it gave us great discounts to fantastic restaurants. They let you have a free 30-day trial!
- Make a game plan of sites you want to see. Try and have a tentative plan including how much time it will take to see each place.
- Avoid long lines by getting up early or buying your tickets online.
- Check deals online. Some museums are free on certain days or you can find major discounts only available online.
- Buy a city pass. If you want to see all of the classic tourist attractions, then most major cities can group it all together for a lower price including transportation.
- Bring your student ID. This can get you at least 2-3 dollars off regular admission prices.
- Don’t be disappointed if you can’t see it all. It’s just not possible in big cities like Paris and London. Always give yourself a reason to return 🙂
- Get an all-in-one adapter. The UK uses different outlets from the rest of Europe so it is so worth it to get a combination one if you are visiting both.
- Turn off WiFi by using “Airplane Mode”. To avoid those roaming charges.
- The best free WiFi can be found at Starbucks. This works every single time for us. It is so nice that they are all over Europe too!
- Clear your camera. You don’t want to waste time erasing pictures instead of enjoying the moment.
- Keep devices fully charged to start the day. This is a no brainer, but it would be awful to be lost with no phone juice!
- Learn the art of “people weaving”. Don’t be the annoying tourist who stops right in front people when they are walking or trying to catch a train. Step aside! There can be so many people clustered by tourist areas so pay attention and people weave.
- Be courteous. Always know how to say please and thank you in a language. It goes a long way.
- Keep an open mind to different cultures. Be respectful, especially in places of worship.
- At least attempt to speak the language first. It might be embarrassing, but locals will be more willing to speak and help you if you at least try 🙂
- Try and learn tips from the locals. It can be soooo very helpful!
What are some tips that you have found to be useful when traveling Europe?
I hope this list has helped! It sure has for us!
*We are off to Switzerland this Friday!