Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tips for Traveling to Europe

Here's a list of tips I have found useful, or wish I had known ahead of time for traveling to Europe. I'm sure you can use these tips anywhere, but they are specifically designed for European travel. I hope you find it useful, funny, quirky, and a little mind-boggling. Yes, I said it. And I'm generalizing here, big time, so no need to take offense to my stereotypes.

  1. Don't be that rude American that expects everyone to speak English. I know it's tempting when everyone in the world but the US learns at least 3 other languages, including English, but at the very least learn how to say Hello, Excuse me, Please, I'm sorry, Where is . . .?, What is .  . .?, Help,  and Do you speak English?
  2. Try to blend in. We stick out like a sore thumb in sweat pants, baseball caps, t-shirts, and sneakers, above all else. The easiest thing to change is your sock color. I have found that black socks are more common outside the US, so for one, wear black socks. Secondly, try not to carry a backpack and wear t-shifts that make it obvious you are a tourist. Plain, neutral colored clothing will make it easier to pack less as well.
  3. Do you research before you leave your room. Nothing spells out 'pick on me' more than a lost tourist with a wide-open map in the middle of the city center. Obviously, you may need a map to get around, but if you can figure it out before you leave your hotel room (even better if you figured most of it out before you flew over) you are in pretty good shape and will look like a normal traveller.
  4. Forgo the fanny pack. Puhleaseeee!! I know they were cool in the 80s when you were a little kid going on a family vacation because it just holds EVERYTHING, but nothing spells 'target' like a fanny pack. The zippers are easily accessible to all on crowded trains and such, and fanny packs do NOT blend in.
  5. Embrace the cultural norms. I think this is the most fun part. Do your research ahead of time and figure out what is and is not acceptable. It will also help you to see more. For instance, in a lot of Cathedrals you can not wear shorts and sleeveless tops. Imagine taking a trip all the way to see the inside and finding out you can't go. Or the norms around hugs/handshakes/kissing. It's better not to make a mistake and offend someone.
  6. Look up National/Local holidays. I can really appreciate American holidays with a clear meaning behind it. You will find random 'bank holidays' where people have off and every site you may want to see is closed. Or it might be a national holiday while you are visiting. Always good to do a search before you go so you can plan to just walk around or join a local festival/parade when something is going on.
  7. Say you are from The States. I've broken this rule already here for brevity (sorry), but remember to be considerate when talking to others. People usually understand if you say you are from 'The States' as 'American' can also imply Canadian (North America) or anyone from Central or South America.
  8. Be aware of the political status. It may not be the best time to go right before or after a big election. People might be really happy . . .or really mad, and you really don't want to get caught up in that (unless maybe you are a journalist). Avoid politics usually (almost like a first date) unless you and the other person have a comfortable repertoire. 
  9. Don't tell people [that ask] where you live. These seems so obvious, but some people are just so persistent it's easy to let it slip. In order not to be rude, just state a general area (oh I'm about 20 mins from here, or I'm downtown, or I'm a little outside the city). If you build trust with someone that you know (and say, maybe you've already checked out) you can volunteer that information, but if someone is asking, they might have a secret agenda.
  10. Use the currency of the country you are in. People are just waiting to rip you off. You'll get a much better price if you spend the country's currency, plus you bring more attention to yourself from on-lookers if you are spending US Dollars.
  11. Unlock your phone's sim card or buy a local phone. If you have people meeting you it's a good way to have a local number to be reached. It's also important to know how to dial the phone number from a out of country phone. You'd be surprised how confusing it is with zero's that only get dialed by local phone numbers and country and city codes. Look this up before you go. Also, if you buy a phone pick a provider that is in ALL the countries you will be visiting. Nothing hurts more than to not be able to recharge your phone because you are not in a country that has that provider and the websites to recharge your balance are in a different language or don't take international credit cards. Just saying . . . .
  12. Look up hotels on reputable sites. Check ratings, reviews (bad and good), and pictures to see how the place looks and the surrounding neighborhood. See how far it is from the local metro and any sites you want to see. Sometimes saving money is not worth the hassle of living 10 miles outside everywhere you want to be or in a sketchy neighborhood. And when you come back write reviews to help the next person!
  13. Be safe. Photocopy your license and passport and leave it with family back home. Give someone a list of where you will be on what dates. Even if you are lost, look like you know where you are going. If you are extremely lost pay the extra money and take a [reputable] cab. Know how to dial the local police and also to ask for help. And memorize your hotel's name/address so that the cab can drop you off. You may want to program their front desk number in your phone.
  14. Have fun!!! Take pictures! And Enjoy your vacation :)