What should I expect in Europe? How similar is life there compared to the U.S.? What’s your best travel tip for Europe? After a few years visiting Spain, Portugal, Greece, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, etc. I’ve gradually learned about European culture. Thus, I’ve picked up on a few cultural differences between traveling in Europe and living in the United States. If you’re headed abroad, you guessed it: here are some key travel tips for Europe that you should know before you go.
Water? Not free of charge
When you go out to eat at a restaurant, water is not always free. If you don’t say “tap water,” in the country’s language (or know it in English) you’ll probably end up paying for a glass or plastic bottle of water. In some cities, wine is cheaper than water too! This isn’t everywhere, but a lot of places I’ve visited. Spain tip: say “agua de grifo.” Thank me later!
The bread is extra
“Complimentary bread” for you to eat while you wait is also not free. They will place it on the table and you’ll be charged if you eat it. The bread can cost anywhere between 3 to 5 euros depending on how fancy the restaurant. Though I can admit bread in Europe is normally fresh and delicious…so I do indulge if it looks extra fresh.
Your shoes better be made for walking
This is one of the most important travel tips for Europe because Europeans walk A LOT. Way more than we do in the U.S! Be prepared by wearing solid shoes to avoid hurting your feet. I’ve worn Vans, Converse, and Nike’s shoes for long days of sight-seeing with minimal issues. If you need more support, you may want to invest in a sturdier or custom-made pair for maximum comfort. I even hiked from Thira to Oia, Greece in sandals! However I probably shouldn’t recommend that.
What’s my favorite word? FREE
Free walking tours are popular and perfect because European cities have tons of history still standing. They are based on your destination’s tourist attractions and are normally given by a local or a long-term resident. You can find them via the destination’s tourism office or your accommodation (such as a hostel) may have recommendations too. Walking tours are one of my favorite things about traveling in Europe!
Though this hasn’t happened that frequently to me, but it’s possible! You may have to pay to use the bathroom in some cities. Malls, stores, and even public bathrooms can charge you 1 or 2 euros per visit to the bathroom. Also, another travel tip for Europe I wish I would have known: carrying tissue or Kleenex just in case there isn’t any in the bathroom either.
The best app for navigation
To navigate on your own, Google Maps is the app you need. Before the trip, star a few locations you know you want to see (including your accommodation address and the airport you’re flying into). Then, make lists of what you want to do. This way, you can still know where you’re going without Wi-Fi or data. For example: I starred my hostel, downloaded a map of Paris while I had airport Wi-Fi, and in the taxi to my hostel my blue location was still active so I could see the route!
Public transportation is your new BFF
Using public transportation is common and quite efficient in big, European cities like Paris, Madrid, London, and Berlin. You can get all-day passes or weekend passes based on the length of your stay and how much you plan to see. These passes can also be used on multiple forms of transportation such as a metro, bus and/or tram.
Catch all the flights for cheap
You didn’t go all the way to Europe to sit around. One of the biggest benefits of being in Europe is how easy it is to travel from country to country. Two common airlines to fly with are Ryanair and Easyjet. I got a flight from Madrid to Brussels for 40 euros via Ryanair and some helpful budget flight tips. They have strict carry-on and check-in rules so pack light and read the fine print before you go!!
Hostels are where it’s at
“Hostels” in Europe don’t have the same connotation as in the U.S. They’re a popular form of accommodation for travelers looking for a cheaper alternative to hotels and even some Airbnbs. With that said, always pack a towel, shower shoes (i.e flip flops) and a lock for your stay. My favorite booking site is Hostelworld and all my tips on booking your first one are here.
Electronics, adapters, outlets galore
Get a big adapter that not only converts to European outlets, but has USB plugs in it. This makes it easier to charge multiple devices at once while only using one outlet. Also, buy a portable charger for older airports with limited outlets. I use a portable from Brookstone and I love it!
Smoking in public is common
Smoking in public places is more prevalent in European countries compared to the non-smoking and 15 feet rules in the U.S. However, people don’t smoke in restaurants, clothing stores, malls, etc. I’ve experienced more smoking in bars, clubs, parks and the streets, yet it’s not overbearing. It’s an adjustment, so just keep your nose up and aware if walking through smoke bothers you.
English is spoken a lot (and it’s a privilege)
For all my native English speakers: it is a privilege and a lifesaver. A lot of European countries know it (or at least some words and phrases) which makes it a lot easier for us to travel than other tourists. People are always apologizing for their lack of English when I don’t know hardly a word of theirs. We should make an effort to learn a few phrases to get by, such as “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.”
Exchange rates and locations are not created equal
This travel tip for Europe took a few tries to get right. The truth is, you get a better exchange rate when you take money out of a bank upon arrival, instead of taking out cash and exchanging in an airport. Euronets are common ATMs, however in some cases they charge more fees than taking our money from banks. Check with your local bank before you leave so you don’t blow your budget. Oh, and don’t exchange at tourist attractions! My friends exchanged 100 USD for 65 euros at the Louvre in Paris, France. Currently, this is about 30 euros less than normal. Yikes.
A final reminder…
Just to reiterate, everything I’ve mentioned is from the point of view of an African-American. As such, all of this is based on differences between the U.S and various European countries and cities I’ve visited. Every country (and person for that matter) will have their own nuanced perspective. And even still, everyone’s experiences differ! Take everything with a grain of salt because the best way is to see it for yourself. While there is always more to mention, this should give you insight on the best travel tips for Europe.