Oh, Europe… Just the very name makes me giddy with excitement! There’s so much culture to witness, food to relish in, and bucket list items to cross off. Everyone comes to Europe for different reasons, whether it be study abroad, a Eurotrip, or just a family vacation, but it’s not always a piece of cake. There are little things that can be done to avoid some of the most common mistakes that people make when traveling to Europe, and I’m here to lay ’em out for ‘ya!
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I know, I get it. Overpacking is something we’ve all been guilty of at some point but I pinky promise that you won’t need most of what you’re planning to bring. Pick versatile items like a nice pair of jeans and tops that can be worn with multiple bottoms.
It’s a good idea, as well, to leave behind any liquids that aren’t an absolute necessity and that you can find in travel sized containers. And ladies, please leave those hairdryers and straighteners at home, they’ll just take up room and/or get destroyed due to voltage issues.
Depending on the season, I usually don’t recommend more than one carry on bag (or better yet
backpack!) Backpacks are much easier than luggage when traveling in Europe because COBBLESTONE. It’s around every corner and it does not give a sh*t if you’ve had a long flight and just want to get to your accommodation without getting the wheels of your luggage stuck every six seconds. Check out this Osprey backpack, I have it and adore it!
2. Only exploring Western Europe
The city lights of Paris is (rightly so) on just about everybody’s bucket list. The livelihood of London is something that people dream of, and the history of Rome is something people practically salivate over… But there is oh so much more to Europe! It’s drenched in culture and various flavors that define each individual country. Give yourself the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. See the places you’d never even thought of before.
Eastern Europe is the perfect option. It’s cheaper, some would argue far more beautiful, and it’ll give you a travel experience unlike any other. Think Albania, Hungary, Slovakia, and more!
3. Getting euros and foreign currency out before coming to Europe
Whether it be at your bank or at the airport currency exchange booths, I can promise you’ll be losing a good chunk of your hard earned cash just by exchanging. Banks charge a moderate fee and currency exchange booths charge an insane fee, leaving you with less money for your travels.
While I encourage you to check out your options, getting money directly from an ATM once you arrive in your host country will often be the cheapest way to get local currency. Some banks like USAA don’t even charge a fee, so you’ll only be paying the difference in currency value. Other banks will charge a percentage or a flat fee, whichever is lower/higher depending on the bank.
4. Not looking into city passes
City passes are one of my favorite must-haves when traveling in cities throughout Europe. Some offer a better deal than others, but I’ve found that they’re often worth it. Most offer unlimited transportation, museum access, and usually some other bonus.
Last year I went to Ghent in Belgium and picked up their 48 hour pass for 30EUR. This gave me access to all public transportation within the city as well as access to all of the museums, a full day bike rental, and a two hour boat ride. I loved having the option of just hopping on and off the buses as I pleased!
5. Being overly ambitious
Many people come to me for advice about their Eurotrip and where they should go. They usually start out by telling me that they have about two weeks and want to see Italy, Greece, France, England, and maybe Germany. Hold up there, you want to see five countries in 14 days?!
While I applaud your ambition, that’s just not a feasible itinerary. Each country has so much to see, offer, and experience. In two or three days you’ll only be able to see about 0.00000000128% of the country, and that just doesn’t do it justice. Try to spend a minimum of one week in each country.
6. Having preconceived notions
One of the coolest things about Europe is how diverse it is. Each country, region, and tiny little village has their own thing goin’ on and their own, unique culture. Each country carries the weight of stereotypes as well as glorified truths that they must bare. It’s important that we as travelers come to a place with an open mind and try to see the place for what it is, not what we think it is.
7. Not adequately protecting yourself and your valuables
This is a biggie in the capital cities of Europe. This is where a bit of street-smarts (as well as good gear) comes into play. As a woman who carries a purse, I make sure to always have my hand over the zipper of my purse (I say zipper because not having a zipper is a recipe for theft). Whether I’m walking around, taking a metro, or shopping, I always have a hand over the zipper of my purse.
There are also two items I never travel without; a theft proof purse and an RFID blocking wallet for all your cards. The purse is uncuttable, so a potential pick-pocketer won’t be able to cut it off your shoulder. The RFID blocking wallet protects your cards from being scanned and having your information stolen.
8. Not researching the public transportation systems
One of the most stressful parts about travel is often one of the easiest if you just do a little research, and that’s how to get around with public transportation. Each country within Europe has a unique public transportation system that includes trains, metros, buses, subways, and sometimes even trams and boats!
There are always little things you can do to avoid a fine or help you get to where you need to be, and it’s important to know all of those little things! Did you know that some German trains have reserved seating? In Italy, you’re required to validate your train tickets before boarding or risk a hefty fine. Before leaving for your trip, look up public transportation guides and you should be good to go.
Great news! Tipping is not required in most situations in Europe. Unlike in the United States, waitstaff and the likes are paid a full, livable wage making tips totally optional. While it depends on the country and situation, most people tend to round up to the nearest euro.
Please keep in mind that it is still customary to tip tour guides so long as the tour guide is not the owner of the company.
10. Using a credit card with foreign transaction fees
Nowadays there are so many credit cards available to people even with lower credit that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, so it’s a no-brainer! Why spend more when you can spend less?
A couple of my favorites are the American Airlines AAdvantage Card and the Barclay Arrival+ card. The AAdvantage Card usually has a good amount of sign on bonus miles when you spend a certain amount within the first few months. I received 60,000 miles which can mean a roundtrip ticket from the continental US! The Arrival+ Card also provides some good points which ultimately makes your account balance lower. On top of all of this you won’t be charged foreign transaction fees, it’s a total win!
(Pssst- make sure to check out our list of local’s guides for tons of different cities around Europe!)
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