I have been to Europe now a handful of times in my life and I have come to really enjoy myself whenever I go. Other than the nauseating flights to get there, the people, culture, and lifestyle in Europe is something special. There are the usual things that take getting used to, such as random traffic signs, different currency, and an altogether unique and pungent brand of body odor many seem to carry around with them. For those of you who haven’t been, let me offer some suggestions in order to ensure yourself a pleasant visit.
1. Don’t go tour-crazy.
It is way too easy as a foreigner to invest in bus rides and guided tours. Some do it for the safety of navigating in a foreign country while others simply want to ensure that they see “everything.” First, you’re not going to see everything your first time, no matter how hard you try. Second, most tours are stupidly expensive and often times whip you around from place to place so fast you can hardly remember where you went. Plus, what better target for panhandlers and pickpockets than a group of people looking up and around, oblivious to the strangers around them?
Instead, do your research. Select one, maybe two sites you would really enjoy getting an in-depth look at and try to find a tour with as few people per guide as possible; the more intimate, the better.
Spend the rest of your time moseying. The best way to enjoy a city in Europe is to walk around some of the most popular streets without a single priority or obligation. Eat where the locals eat, do what the locals do. You’ll return from your trip with many more memories than if you spend your time bouncing from tour to tour for a week.
2. Don’t exchange your currency.
The rates for exchanging your dollars for euros or pounds is insane. You would be surprised at how much it all adds up at the end of your trip. Most credit and debit cards have reasonable exchange rates, so plan on finding an ATM somewhere at your destination. Just be sure you tell your credit card companies that you are traveling abroad, or else you won’t be able to use your cards, period.
3. Cruises: worth it.
I recently returned from my honeymoon in Europe where my wife and I did a 10-day cruise through the Mediterranean. Now, I’m not just saying the cruise was amazing simple because it was my honeymoon. The level of attention we received from cruise staff both on and off the boat was incredible. If you are traveling to Europe for the first time, this may be the way to do it, just so you can get small tastes of a lot of different European destinations. Obviously, this is a more costly option, but if you can foot the bill, it’s totally worth it.
4. Almost everyone in the service industry speaks English.
A big fear amongst travelers to Europe is that they will not be able to navigate their way around the cities, let alone communicate with the locals. Many people fail to realize how many people speak English as a second language. It’s almost a guarantee that hotel desk workers and attraction coordinators will be able to communicate with you effectively. Even restaurant waiters and bartenders typically know enough to get you through a food order. You may encounter difficulties in France, where people will decline to speak English, especially if they learn you’re an American, but almost everywhere else you can expect sincere friendliness, at least more so than foreigners find here in the states.
5. Don’t stress.
It’s not like people can go to Europe at the drop of a hat. The cost of flights, hotels, food, and more can really add up. So people tend to rigidly structure their trip, to ensure that they do everything they want to do. But the bottom line is: don’t stress. You’re bound to make your trip a lot more miserable (and forgettable) if you are too hellbent on constantly moving around and seeing stuff. Take the Mona Lisa. Everyone goes to the Louvre in Paris just to see with their own eyes. Surprise: it’s only about two feet by two and a half feet. Not only that, you are crammed in a huge room competing with about a thousand other patrons to get as close to it as possible. The painting itself is protected by a few inches of bulletproof glass and you can only stand as close as 15 feet or so. It’s stressful and annoying to be in that room. Knowing what I know about the painting, I would still die peacefully if I had never made the attempt to see it in the first place.
Of course, no two places in Europe are the same. While these tips are good general guidelines to follow when traveling abroad, make sure you study online about your specific destination. Most importantly: enjoy yourself!