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Last updated: November 8, 2022 • Traveling Around the World

What you Need to Know Traveling to Europe – if you Are an American

As the traveling season is slowly peaking and the travel bans have all lifted, a new trend is on the rise known as “revenge traveling”. The idea is fairly simple. After we have all experienced lockdown, travel restrictions, and the whole nine yards of the pandemic stress, Americans go above and beyond to ensure their following holiday is worth the extensive two years wait. So, it’s not much of a surprise that many Americans are looking across the pond for the ultimate traveling experience in the continent of Europe.

Yes, Europe, a continent full of history, cultural diversity, and incredible sights, cannot be matched. A continent that is so complex, different, unique, and united that one type of organization wasn’t enough to bind it all together. So, for anyone that’s planning their trip to this fascinating continent, in this article, I’ll cover the most important things to know before traveling to Europe. Especially for Americans traveling to Europe now that borders are open, while you might think you know what to expect, if it’s your first time traveling to Europe, you should be prepared because things are quite different there.

Summary:

The checklist that we will follow came as a result of extensive travel throughout Europe as a European native. While some of the things are second-hand for me, I will cover everything from organizing the trip to traveling between different countries in Europe and within them, as well as everything from plugs, currencies, local customs, and cultural shocks US citizens traveling to Europe will experience. 

What to do Before you Travel

womans hand marks route on paper

If this will be your first time traveling to Europe, there are a few things of the utmost importance that we can not overlook. From the paperwork you will need to the planning of your trip, in this section, we’ll ensure that you take into account everything you need before you board the plane. Seeing as Europe is a large continent with many countries, it’s essential to know the basics about the continent, the differences between the US and Europe, the differences between the many countries of Europe, and the best way to travel. Like that, you can rest assured that you will have the trip of your life as you travel throughout Europe.

Basic Facts

europe map white background

Europe is the second smallest continent in size, spreading across 4 million square miles, covering 2% of the Earth’s surface and 6.8% of the land areas if we use the seven-continent model. Its 746.4 million inhabitants live among the 50 countries within the continent, each with its own laws, cultures, and traditions

While all those 50 countries belong to the European continent, not all of them are limited to the European continent, as Europe is also an incredibly large peninsula of the Eurasia land mass. Because of this, countries like Turkey and Russia have sections that pertain to the continent of Asia, while Cyprus, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland are completely disconnected from the continent. Still, they are considered part of Europe due to their governance (Greenland and Faroe Islands – Denmark) or proximity to the continent (Cyprus).

Of the total of 50 countries, 27 pertain to the European Union, a common market trade that expanded over time to increase the continent’s economy and the freedom of movement for those living there. Several other countries are negotiating to join, while some recently left the EU with significant negative impacts on the economy and travel for Europeans. In addition to the 27 EU countries, the European Economic Area includes three more countries.

Within the continent of Europe, there is also the Schengen Area, a board-free zone in the EU. This distinction allows the citizens of the 26 countries within the Schengen Area to travel without a passport to other member states.

Lastly, there is also the Eurozone, and here we have all European countries that share the same currency, the Euro which has a similar value to the US Dollar. Currently, there are 19 member states in the Eurozone, but here’s the kicker, not all of them are in the EU.

To say that it’s easy to understand how everything works in Europe is an understatement, as it can be tricky even for some Europeans. For example, since the UK left the EU, residents of EU countries need a Passport to enter the country. Before Brexit, your ID was enough. At the same time, UK residents need a visa to enter EU countries. The Euro can not be used in many European countries. Still, at the border crossing between Belgium and Denmark, you simply walk into a shop in Belgium and enter Denmark once you take two steps into the shop with no verification, passport, or form of ID. This is why it’s important to know where you are going because while your passport might not be necessary for you to cross the border in some cases, it will be in others, not to mention that ID checks can be random in Europe. Hence, it’s always best to have some form of international identification.

What do you Need to do to Travel to Europe?

While some of the following things may be obvious, it’s important not to overlook them as it might make your trip challenging to enjoy, if not impossible altogether. So just to ensure everything is as it should be, the following are things you should take care of before starting your trip.

Health Check

healthcare hospital check

If you are new to traveling abroad, know that it’s always best not to feel ill when packing your bags. If you suffer from any chronic condition, it’s best to check your status before you embark on a long trip just to be sure. Any prescription medication you might need during your trip should be filled out beforehand, and make sure you have enough for all of your journey. While medicine is more affordable in Europe, you still need a prescription from a local doctor to buy them. You should also have a letter from your doctor with the dosage requirements and the specific name of the medication you have with you. This is required as some meds can not be transported without the correct paperwork, and the brand name of the medicine may not be translatable, but specific names can. If this is not done correctly, you might end up with your medication being confiscated.

Any medication needs to be placed in your carry-on luggage. Like that, they’ll be on hand, and you won’t be left without them if your baggage gets lost. You can bring over-the-counter medications with you unless restrictions are placed on them in European countries, but most of them will be available in Europe, probably at a lower price. However, if you don’t want to spend your holiday shopping for Tylenol and Advil, bring them with you. But if you do, know that over-the-counter meds in Europe are only sold at pharmacies. You will not find over-the-counter meds in grocery stores.

Passport Check

person holding american passport

If you don’t have a passport, apply for one at least three months before your trip to ensure you have it in time for your travels. If you already have a passport, ensure the expiration date isn’t for at least six months beyond your stay in Europe. If your passport will expire soon, renew it. Also, depending on how much you travel abroad, ensure enough pages are left in your passport for all the European stops you want to make. For safety reasons, make a few copies of the front page of your passport (the page with all your information) and take a phone picture of it as well. For that, if you don’t have your passport with you, you can use those copies or your phone picture for identification purposes.

Travel Insurance

travel agent ticket safe

While a travel insurance will add more to your budget expenditure, this may be something you are thinking of overlooking, but with the current state of the world, it’s best to have it than to wind up needing it and being without one. More often than not, it will be a requirement if you travel with a group or through a travel agency.

The type of travel insurance you make depends on the type of insurance you need considering your travel plans. The basic travel insurances covering your health while on your European trip are travel accident insurance and medical insurance, including emergency evacuation and transportation. If you plan to travel by car, there’s the rental car collision/damage. If you travel by plane, you should look into trip cancellation or interruption insurance, trip delay, or lost baggage insurance.

Paperwork and Copies

travel safely concept

As we already mentioned, having a copy of your passport goes a long way. Because of this, it can be a lifesaver to ensure you have at least two copies of all your travel documents. One to keep with you and the other to give to your designated person (the individual you are traveling to). Like this, in case of theft, you’ll have all your documents on hand, and it will be easier to be issued replacements based on the available copies than to wait to get them issued without the copies. Make sure you don’t keep the copies in the same place as the originals. Important documents to copy:

  • Passport information page – the page with your photo, details, and passport number;
  • Health insurance card – any and all insurances you’ve made for this trip;
  • Credit and debit card information – card number, phone numbers, a copy of the front and back of the cards;
  • Reservations – any hotel, car, or tour reservations you’ve done at home;
  • Hard copies of airline boarding passes, train reservations, etc.

Cash and Credit

different euro banknotes and coins

Before you leave the US, talk to your bank and credit card company at least a week in advance to let them know you will be traveling in Europe. Some banks and credit card companies block accounts for presumed fraudulent transactions when you’re outside your usual area. Also, check and see if you will be charged extra fees for transactions in Europe, ATM cash withdrawals, or currency exchanges. In most cases, these fees are applied, but some banks may charge more than others, and if you need to withdraw some cash from an ATM, it’s best to use the card with the lowest exchange rate.

You will need a card with a chip or PIN for European transactions. You’ll need to use your debit card for cash withdrawals, while you can use your credit card in most hotels, car rentals, restaurants, and shops. While you can either use your card or withdraw money in most parts of Europe, it’s always best to take some cash with you just in case. But don’t try to exchange money in all the currencies you’ll need in the US. Chances are you won’t find many of them. Depending on where you plan to travel, decide which currency you need, but as the exchange rates will be higher in the US, you can always exchange money at the airport once you get to your destination. If possible, and you don’t want to have some currency left as a reminder, try to use up all your money in the local currency, especially if it’s not Euro, or exchange it back to Dollars before you depart. I still have some Rupees left from a trip I took in 2019 and have no idea what to do with them. 

Electricity

woman applies universal electrical adapter

This will be short, but it is essential. You will need an adaptor. Without it, you won’t be able to charge any of the electronics you take with you. Across most of Europe, the standard plugs take two round prongs, and your two flat prongs won’t fit. The adaptor simply makes the transitions from the two flat prongs to the two round prongs. In the UK and Malta, however, plugs allow for three prongs. Depending on where you travel, for safety, you might need both. Even if the two-round prongs can go into the three-prong sockets in the UK and Malta, it’s best not to risk setting the whole building on fire.

When it comes to voltage, seeing as most appliances in Europe use a dual voltage, you can buy a convertor, but they aren’t necessary. However, if you bring with you an appliance from the US that doesn’t use a dual voltage, get the convertor for safety, or don’t bring the appliance.

Phone

Before you leave, figure out what your cell phone plan will allow you to do in Europe. It may be that the cost of a phone call or internet usage is high or that you can simply not use your phone at all while you’re there. Depending on your trip length, you could buy a rechargeable number in Europe and use it only while you’re there. Another option for AT&T users is an international day pass that allows them to use their phone as they usually would in the US for a $10 daily fee.

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Planning and Booking your Trip

tourist pointing europe on map

Europe may not be the biggest continent, but it is vast, complex (as we’ve seen above), and diverse. It’s best, when unsure, to just take out a map and pinpoint your desired destinations. For instance, if you want to go to the UK, Netherlands, Romania, and Spain, know that these countries are far from each other. You won’t be able to go for an afternoon drive even from London, England, to Edinburgh, Scotland, and those are both in the UK. It’s best to look at the map, understand the distance between your destinations, and plan accordingly. Know that in Europe, distances are measured in kilometers, not miles (you won’t see miles anywhere on the continent), and one mile is about 1.6 kilometers.

The length of the whole trip depends entirely on how many stops you want to have, but know that European capitals, while they may not be as large as Los Angeles or New York, are vast, tightly packed, and filled with places you’ll want to visit. On average, at least four days will be necessary for you to be able to enjoy each major city, while you can do smaller towns in a couple of days.

Accommodations

tourist woman glass wine in swimming pool

Seeing as Europe is part of the developed world, you will be able to book your accommodations in advance with little to worry about. You can trust sites like Booking[dot]com or Airbnb throughout most parts of Europe, and it’s always best to get this done in advance for US citizens traveling to Europe, especially if you intend to travel during peak or shoulder season.

When it comes to hotels, these will be among the most expensive options. Some of the brands will be familiar to you, like Hilton, Ramada, and Marriott, but local or family hotels stray away from the US standards by adding an influx of local flair. You should be prepared for smaller room sizes as overall European buildings are not as spacious, even for brands you’ll be familiar with. Everything is a bit more tightly packed in Europe, but you might end up staying in a 13th-century fortress or castle, so pros and cons.

Another standard accommodation option in Europe is Hostels, which aren’t like what you may be accustomed to in the US. While these are the cheapest options, they can house several guests in one room, some with bunk beds and some with individual beds. Groups or couples also have options where you won’t have to share the room without anyone outside your party. Still, one of the benefits of this type of accommodation is that it allows you to mingle with many different nationalities and see how diversity works in Europe.

Airbnb is another excellent option as you can find exciting rooms in historical buildings in city centers across Europe for an affordable price. For instance, a room in a flatshare in downtown Rotterdam, a room in a south France castle, an entire villa on a Portuguese orchard, and many other unique locations that no hotel or hostel chain can give you access to.

Itinerary

many tickets one day trip

Regarding places you are adamant about visiting, it’s important to book tickets in advance in Europe. For instance, because I didn’t book a ticket in advance, I couldn’t visit Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam when I went to visit because the line for those with tickets was over an hour long. This is the case for most tourist attractions, and seeing as Europe isn’t particularly easy to reach for Americans, make sure you have the tickets for your ultimate tourist attractions.

Many important European destinations for tourists have hop-on-hop-off bus tours that can take you to the most important attractions, but you need to have the tickets ready for when you reach the destination. Also, if you can join a tourist group, some have priority for major tourist attractions. Because of this, while I went to the Vatican (the papal residence), I didn’t have to wait in the astronomic two-hour line that started in Rome and went all through the Vatican. We just took this side entrance, and we were in without having to wait at all. It’s similar when you go to The Louvre in Paris, France, the Schönbrunn Palace in Wien, Austria, and many other highly important destinations.

In all European countries, you must pay an entrance fee if you want to visit a museum. This isn’t something different from the experience you get at the best museums in the US. However, this is not the case in the UK. While some museums require a fee, like Madame Tussauds, most of them are free of charge for general exhibitions at least. I remember walking through London’s museums every morning and only paying for my coffee to-go cup as I saw history, nature, science, and art develop throughout the centuries.

While most of Europe is well-known for its fantastic architecture, you can simply walk the streets in awe of the buildings surrounding you. Some don’t even need to be visited, or can’t be visited as there are residential houses, so be respectful and quiet and enjoy the splendor.

Your Luggage

woman package suitcase

While it might not always be an option, traveling light will go a long way, especially if you plan to move around a lot. If possible, just take a backpack with you and a laptop case or purse. While the flight from the US to Europe allows for larger luggage, flights within Europe have different standard sizes, and it will be easier to meet those requirements if you travel light. Also, considering all the cobblestone roads, it’s best and less noisy to just take a backpack with you.

Before you start packing, make sure your luggage size works for flights within Europe, as you might not want to pay any extra fees. Also, check the requirements for liquid substances. All the liquids in your hand luggage must fit into one clear ziplock bag that closes easily. If the bag doesn’t close, you’ll have to get rid of some of your things. For women, keep in might that this included liquid eyeliner, liquid concealer, perfume, and any other liquid makeup products. Also, the individual products can not weigh more than 3.4 ounces. Shower gels, shampoos, or other cleaning products must be in clear plastic containers if you put them in your carry-on bag. 

Transportation

row bicycle for rent

Before you reach Europe, you need to decide how you will travel once you reach the continent. While getting to Europe will most likely happen by plane, once there, you have multiple means of transportation available, besides air travel, to get to any of the destinations within the continent, even in the non-continental parts of Europe like the UK or Mediterranean islands. The public transportation systems are great for travel within and outside of the various European countries and can be less risky when it comes to luggage going missing.

After you decide on the parts of Europe you want to visit during your trip, research the transportation options at your disposal. The most effective and affordable options are trains, planes, buses, and rental cars. While the UK can be reached by car, plane, train, or bus, the Mediterranean islands can be reached by plane or, in some cases, only by boat. Also, boat buses or ferries are standard on the major rivers in Europe, so you can take a mini cruise from one country to another or within a country.

Cars

famous canyon resevoir

If you choose to rent a car, you should know that roads can be challenging to navigate for Americans. Firstly, if you travel to the UK or Malta, know that they drive on the right side of the road with the steering wheel on the left. This alone might make things difficult for American drivers. You also need to ensure that your driver’s license is valid for international driving. You can get an International Driver Permit through the AAA. While they aren’t always required, it’s best to have them with you as it’s inexpensive and will make it easy to prove you can drive even to the most thick-headed police officers. Seeing as you’ll be driving in foreign countries, know that road signs can be different, placed in different areas than you are used to, and will be in a foreign language. Not to mention that the names of cities are usually translated into the country’s language. For instance, Wien in Austria is Vien, in Romania is Viena, in Hungary is Bécs, not to mention that Austria in Austria will be Österreich. So … we can not say things will be easy for US drivers.

Subsequently, people drive differently in different parts of Europe. The driving customs and attitudes are different, and it might be difficult for you to get used to them instantly. For instance, in Malta and Italy, (sorry) drivers are more erratic and less patient. At the same time, in the Netherlands, car drivers usually give priority to any other traffic participant, including buses, bikes, and pedestrians. Many large European cities, like London, Paris, etc., have an extra fee for downtown driving. And lastly, make sure you know how to drive standard, you know, the multi-steps changing gear. While automated cars are more common in Europe lately, they aren’t guaranteed, and if you borrow a car from a friend you’re visiting, you might have a problem.

Trains

switzerland front glacier

Train rides through Europe can be as luxurious and as relaxing as ever, or quite interesting, to say the least. Still, you can use the European railroad system to get mostly everywhere on the continent. A few exceptions here are the Mediterranean islands. Still, even UK can be reached by train. Even within countries, you can use the national railroad system to get from one part to another, even to smaller villages.

Overall, when it comes to trains, you should book tickets in advance if you intend to take high-speed trains on the most popular routes. However, you can buy regional, national, and local train tickets either at the train station or directly on the train.

One thing to remember is that while the train system throughout Europe is very well designed and trustworthy, it’s always a good idea to get to the station early and make sure you get to the correct platform. I almost lost a connection to Prague when at the Budapest train station because I didn’t know how the platforms were numbered. When it comes to international trains, they aren’t as common, but you will still find around two trains per day or more in northern and eastern Europe, but national trains are much more frequent, so if you miss one, just wait an extra hour or so for the next one.

While in some cases it can be cheaper to travel by plane than the train, the views can not be compared. There was the case of a guy who had to travel from London to Manchester, and it was cheaper to get a connecting flight through Barcelona than a direct train. In some parts of Europe, the views you can see by train are even better than the ones available by car. Still, you could find airplane tickets between 8-20 Euros from one part of Europe to another as there are many cheap flights organized to increase tourism in some areas. One thing to remember if you go to northern or western European countries is that you may find silent compartments where you are supposed to be quiet. If you aren’t, you can be fined.

What to do While you Travel

young couple happy in front of collosseum

Now that we covered all you need to check and know before you travel to Europe, we’ll go over some of the things you must keep in mind while you’re in Europe. There are big differences in the way things work in Europe, especially regarding different customs and how people interact with each other. Some of them might seem weird for Americans traveling to Europe, different, off, and, in some cases, backward, but citizens of Europe are just brought up differently, and the expectations are different. It’s important to be aware of some of these differences and act accordingly if you don’t want to come off as arrogant, mean, or overly friendly. Usually, when traveling to a foreign country, the traveler needs to take into account the customs and traditions of the country they are traveling in, and not the other way around.

Safety

tourist who where playing on mobile phone

The safety debate between the US and Europe is a long-standing one. The first thing Americans need to know about safety in Europe is that gun violence is almost nonexistent, as guns are either illegal or strictly regulated. However, while most of Europe is safe from violent crimes, there are the shadier sides of the major metropolitan cities that you might want to avoid at night or when traveling alone. The biggest and most common safety risk you can encounter in Europe is pickpocketing and petty theft, especially in areas with high-tourist traffic. It’s best to keep your valuables in a vault at your accommodation, your wallets in the front pocket, or a conspicuous waist bag, and avoid purses that go on your shoulder as they can get taken with ease. For those who use backpacks, don’t keep your phones in any exterior pockets; use locks or twist ties for safety. 

When it comes to ATMs, try to always use the ones inside of the banks and stay away from the exterior ones as they could be tampered with. A common scheme is to put a front on top of the ATM machine that copies the cards. Also, make sure that no one stands behind you when you use one.

Another common scam used in major tourist destinations is the distraction method, where someone will keep you distracted while another person picks your pockets. Avoid talking to people who want to sell you something, ask for your help, or want you to join them in whatever type of religious, touristic, or visiting event. Also, in parts of Europe, street vendors sell knock-off items, and it’s illegal not only to sell them but also to purchase them, so it’s best to stay away from any vendor that approaches you, especially if they are pushy. Lastly, if someone comes up to you to ask you for your information for a survey, petition, or anything like that, just walk away.

As an added safety measure, considering the current geo-political climate in Eastern Europe, be mindful of your travel plans. While the countries surrounding the Western part of Ukraine and Russia are safe, it is best to make sure you have an exit strategy if things escalate. Regardless of where you are going, check your embassy information, as they will release statements regarding any safety issues you need to consider.

Customs, Cultures, and Traditions

different culture concept

Regarding the continent of Europe, it’s important to note that each country has different customs, cultures, and traditions. While some can be similar, generalizing all of Europe into one is a big mistake. For instance, if you have the chance to go to both Eastern and Western Europe. While all of Europe is modern and civilized, things are very different from France to Poland. Still, the following are general things you should know to expect in most of Europe.

Tipping Culture

Unlike in the US, servers and bartenders don’t live off of tips. Because of this, the European tipping culture is vastly different than in the US. Usually, the expected tip is between 5% and 10%, depending on how much you spend, obviously, and the quality of your service. However, in countries like France, but most commonly the northern European countries, tips are not at all expected, and you may find servers that push back against these practices as they don’t need it, considering it handy-me-downs. They might even be visibly insulted by the idea of tipping. They make enough money to live a comfortable life.

Restaurant Etiquette

restaurants on the street

This might be the biggest shock for Americans, but in all of Europe, as far as I discovered during my travels, nobody will bring you the check if you don’t specifically ask for it. You can go to a bar or restaurant, finish your order, and just relax. Similarly, in European countries, the waiter doesn’t hover next to your table to ask you something every few minutes and make sure you are happy with your order. The chances of being disturbed during your meal at a restaurant are very slim. However, while they might not check to make sure that you are happy with your order, if something is seriously wrong with it, you can tell them, with the hopes that they will replace your dish free of charge. In most places, you will seat yourself, and there are even bars or food boutiques where you have to go to the bar and order if you want anything.

Supermarket

mother son shopping organic grocery shop

If you find yourself at a supermarket, there are some clear distinctions to how things work in Europe than in the US that will annoy locals if you don’t follow the rules. First of all, nobody will bag your groceries. In Europe, when you’re at the cash register, aside from the fact that the cashier is sitting down (there’s no reason for them to stand up all day), they work very fast. While they are busy scanning your products, it’s your job to either bag them if they aren’t many or put them back in the cart and take the cart to the bagging station where, again, you are the one who baggs them. More often than not, Europeans take the cart to their cars and organize their shopping directly in their trunks. And secondly and very importantly, once your cart is empty, take it to the area where the carts are linked together. Before I forget, if you need a big shopping cart, you will need some form of local currency (a coin) to be able to use it (it depends on the currency, but the value doesn’t matter), and you will get that coin back when you put the cart back in its place.

Interacting with Europeans

young beautiful friend tourist couple

Europeans are friendly in general, but they are also proud, so before you start comparing and telling them how things are better in the US, remember that healthcare is free in Europe, so they have at least something to bite back with. Overall, in most European countries, it won’t be challenging to interact with Europeans in English, especially in the big cities. However, learning a few phrases in their local language will come in handy. For instance, countries like Italy, Spain, and Hungary have all their TV programs dubbed in their language, making them less used to English. In these countries and others, you might be left stranded if you only know English. But keep in mind that it is common in Europe to meet people that speak multiple languages, so don’t be shocked if when they hear you speak English, they ask for other options like Spanish, German, French, or Italian, being the most common.

Drinking

wine cheese served friendly

While alcoholism can be a problem in parts of Europe, it is a commonly accepted fact that Europeans can hold their liquor. So if you find yourself in the company of Europeans, don’t try to keep up with them as you might end up regretting it, especially in the Balkans and Scandinavia, but the UK as well. It’s common in Italy to drink around four glasses of wine at dinner. Another thing Americans traveling to Europe should be aware of is that there are no refills on any beverages. Anything that you want to drink comes at a cost, even water (which is cleaner). You can ask for tap water at restaurants and bars, but they won’t serve it to you in most places.

Food

prawn starter seaside restaurant

It is common to come across Italian, Spanish, and Hungarian restaurants in America, but don’t expect to get the same cuisine once you’re in Europe. What you’ll find in the US are Americanized versions of these cuisines. For instance, there is no such thing as Chicken Parm in Italy, and the Pizza there is unlike anything you can find in the US. It’s best to just look at the menu and see what sparks your interest. Food, overall, isn’t what you’re used to in America. It tastes different because the ingredients are different. It’s better and much healthier because many of the chemicals and ingredients commonly used in US food are banned in Europe due to their toxicity. Simply look at a bottle of Fanta from Europe, and you’ll see the difference. European Fanta is the same color as an Orange. The US version is not, to put it nicely.

How to Dress

outdoor autumn portrait

Fashion and attire are at another level throughout Europe, East, West, South, and North. Whenever Europeans leave their house (maybe not while they walk their dogs), they dress to impress. This may come as a surprise to Americans, but chances are that you won’t see Europeans wearing sweat pants, leggings, crocks, or tank tops unless it is in some way or another a fashion statement. People in Europe are more conscious about how they dress when they go out in public but often even when they are home. Usually, they have clothes for going out, staying in, lounging, and exercising. 

If Americans want to blend in while in Europe and not make it obvious that they are tourists, the things they wear can go a long way, along with how they speak. While you don’t have to wear top designer clothing or luxurious items, try to color coordinate and dress smart—a pair of jeans coupled with some smart-casual top works and walkable footwear with simplistic designs.

Tips for Traveling to Europe

In this section, we’ll go over a few things that you should know to expect about your travels around Europe. These will be things that will help you out a lot to be better prepared for what awaits when you reach your destination. While they might not all be useful, it depends on the length of your trip, where you travel, and where you want to go.

Walking

motion blurred shoppers

While we are accustomed to always driving around everywhere in the US, this isn’t the case for many Europeans. Aside from the multitude of public transportation options, simply due to their size but not only, European cities are also incredibly walkable. Furthermore, if you travel with Europeans, you will grow tired quickly because Europeans don’t rely on transportation for traveling, especially if they’re showing a visitor around their hometown. So, to say that you should expect a lot of walking is an understatement, and if you think about buying a vacation home here, you should get used to it. 

You need to make sure that whatever shoes you bring with you are incredibly comfortable and durable because, one way or another, you’ll end up walking a lot. There are sidewalks everywhere and if walking isn’t something you are comfortable with for extended periods of time, try biking, another great alternative. Additionally, in many tourist areas, you will find pedestrian-only streets, partly to limit pollution, partly because it isn’t possible to move or tear down a 15th-century building to widen a road.

Washing your Clothes

washing lines alley venice

If you stay for a longer period of time and you need to wash your clothes, while some hotels may have laundry services, don’t count on it, and you also won’t find laundromats in Europe. The standard appliances Europeans use to do their laundry are a washer/dryer combo or simply a washer. The standard for drying your clothes in Europe is hanging them out in the sun or on a rack inside. It’s less harmful to the fabrics and better for the environment. Still, apps like Airbnb allows users to select these features and only look at options, including them. Still, limiting yourself to those options does also limit the types of experiences you might have otherwise because an 18th-century villa in Italy or Portugal will most likely not offer such amenities.

Air Conditioning

panoramic view old town beautiful

Around Europe, the use of Air Conditioning isn’t as normalized as it is in the US. While hotels, hostels, or AirBnBs can have either centralized AC or AC units, they aren’t a standard feature because the climate is different in Europe. Europeans are more accustomed to the change in temperature, and the buildings themselves are built differently. Insulation, whether it is added or the building is made from low-temperature transference materials, makes it so that the homes are kept warm during winter and cool during summer. Brick and concrete work differently than wood, the most common building materials used in Europe. Most buildings are old and historical and can not be fitted with AC units of any kind. However, Europeans suffered during the recent heat waves, and many invested in AC units.

Common Sense

tourist couple walking on street
  • Visiting an old castle, fortress, historical building, or church may seem unfair to people with mobility problems, as there aren’t escalators, elevators, or ramps for easy accessibility. The reasons aren’t because people with mobility issues aren’t respected. It’s more about the fact that you can’t install a lift or ramps in those buildings simply because they are old.
  • Keep your high-heels at home if you’re going for a walk. This will help you for two reasons. Firstly, in many parts of Europe, especially in historical areas, the standard for pedestrians is cobblestones. Walking in high heels on cobblestones may be difficult, if not downright dangerous. Secondly, the surface may not always be as flat as you’d like, and you don’t want to twist your ankle during your trip.
  • In many parts of Europe, especially in Western Europe and everywhere in London, for instance, when you go on an escalator, you must always stand on the right side of it as the left side of the escalator is for those who are in a hurry. Trust me. You do not want to be on the receiving end of a rushing British businessman as they will cuss at you seven ways to Sunday and back without you ever realizing what is happening. Do not cross a Brit in a hurry. Similarly, do not stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look at buildings, especially in crowded areas, as Europeans walk a lot and they walk fast. Also, don’t go for a stroll when you walk as you might disturb pedestrian traffic.
  • Smoking is forbidden in most indoor public spaces like restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, and cultural spaces. While the smoking rate in Europe is much higher than in the US, Europeans respect these laws, and so should you. However, you may find the occasional restaurants that allow smoking where smoke may get into your clothes, but if you don’t see an ashtray on your table, either ask or wait until you leave. It depends on the countries that you visit, as some European countries are bigger consumers of cigarettes. Countries in Northern Europe have a smoking rate of around 12%, while Eastern Europe averages around 35%. While in Sweden, with a smoking rate of 7%, you’ll be free of the stale cigarette smell, in Greece, you should expect it everywhere.
  • Where you find public toilets throughout Europe, you will be expected to pay a fee. This can range from 2 Euros to a few Eurocents but think of it as a fee that covers the maintenance of the facilities. You will also find self-sanitizing cubicles in some parts of Western Europe.
  • Keep your voice down. While it is common knowledge that Americans are loud, this tip isn’t only about the disturbance created by tourists but also because most people will understand what you’re saying. So as you walk down the street, either keep it down or be careful what you say.

What to do After you Travel

overjoyed woman wearing pijamas

The most important thing to be aware of as you plan this trip is that it will change you, as traveling often does. Any type of traveling broadens your horizons and makes you more aware of how different things can be in other parts of the world. Because of this, don’t expect to get back home and be the same person you were when you left. The chances of that happening are incredibly low, and you should expect this difference. It might be the way you see your hometown or the conversations of the people around you. Or simply because you’ve seen things that are so different, it will be difficult for you to get accustomed to how things work in America. 

Europe is a beautiful, diverse, and highly complex continent where you can see everything from the most advanced metro system (the London tube) to horse-drawn carriages in the villages. The best wines come from Europe, but they could either be made in the most sophisticated factory or by squashing grapes with your feet. Cultures are vastly different, traditions the same, and if you only go to Western Europe, you won’t be able to understand the concept of Hygge. However, if you only travel to Eastern Europe, you won’t discover the beauty of Portuguese culture. If you can’t take enough time off from work, don’t limit yourself to one trip because it’s impossible to be able to see all of Europe during one holiday.

Let us know in the comments below which part of Europe you’d most like to visit and why. We might wind up writing features for the most common answers. Like & Share this article with friends and family, firstly, so they know you’re planning to visit the old world and, secondly, so they tell you all the reasons why going to Europe will be a bad idea so that you can prove them wrong.

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