My travels have almost only occurred in Europe (with the exception of some visits to cities in the States). I absolutely love just about everything about the continent and would return in a heartbeat. Having lived in two European cities and traveled to about a dozen European countries, my friends and family visiting and/or studying abroad in Europe have often asked me for tips and advice about traveling in Europe, so I thought I’d consolidate my tips for travel in Europe here!
Withdraw money from an ATM once you arrive
Don’t exchange money before you go or at a currency exchange when you arrive: you’ll get ripped off on exchange rates and major cities have ATMs everywhere. Plus, many American banks have partners in Europe so you can avoid fees. Check your bank’s website to see who their partners are in the country you’re visiting. In Prague, my tour guide told us specifically to withdraw money from ATMs and avoid exchange shops as locals are known to rip off tourists if they don’t go to the right ones.
Learn phrases in other languages
Yes, most (not all) people I came across spoke English, but it’s just polite to learn words like hello, goodbye, please, and thank you in the local language. It’s respectful and shows locals that you actually cared enough to try—plus locals will be more willing to open up and chat if you give their mother tongue a try!
Don’t be that loud American
Yes, Americans are loud. I sometimes avoid identifying myself as American when traveling because the loud Americans are the worst people to be. You can easily spot them in any foreign country by their loud conversations, basically yelling instead of talking. If you want to blend in, in any way whatsoever, keep your volume in check.
Don’t ask for anything at a restaurant “to-go”
Portions in Europe are smaller, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finishing your food. But asking for something to-go is a major faux pas. I know from some European friends that it makes you look like you are too stingy to afford to eat different meals every day.
Exception: street foods and takeaway sandwich shops or cafes are obviously exceptions.
Get off the beaten path
There is more to Paris than the Eiffel Tower. There is more to Rome than the Colosseum. There’s more to London than Big Ben. Don’t get me wrong, you should still see the iconic sites, but make sure you squeeze some time in to explore the back roads and discover quieter parts of the city.
I wouldn’t be called Life Well Wandered if I didn’t advocate wandering (much to the chagrin of my mother, who begrudgingly follows as I meander around for miles and miles)! If you wander with no destination in mind, chances are you’ll find something special and off-the-beaten-path. Some of the best things I’ve found on my travels (and in NYC) have been by wandering. You won’t regret it!
No one wants to drag heavy bags up and down train platforms and along cobblestone streets. Pack as light as you can. You don’t need as many clothes as you think you do!
Use public transport
Many of the European cities I’ve visited have great metro or tram systems. Take advantage of them and explore like a local! My favorite app for using public transportation is Citymapper. I use it every day in New York City and used it in London and Paris as well. Each city you visit will also have it’s own apps and websites for public transport as well.
Take a train to a new country
During my five weeks of travel in Europe, my friend and I traveled exclusively by train. No TSA, no luggage requirements (well, almost none anyway), no electronic regulations, stations in the city centre, what more could you ask for?
Train travel is relatively easy to figure out in Western Europe and a little more complicated in Eastern Europe. My advice? Use this website to see if train travel from one city to another is affordable and feasible.
Pro tip: larger cities tend to have more than one train station. Pay attention to which one you book your return travel to as you could leave from and arrive to different stations in the same city!
Try local foods
Goulash in Prague; Pierogies in Poland; Currywurst in Berlin; Tarte-flambée in Strasbourg. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, food-wise. The food in Europe is delicious and incredibly diverse and much better than American food, in my opinion.
Many people I’ve talked to have mentioned how the quality of their trip was greatly diminished because they spent a lot of it on the train to and from the city centre instead of exploring. While it might be harder to find affordable housing in city centres in Paris or London, it’s definitely feasible in Central and Eastern Europe.
My advice: Stay with Airbnb. While there are some horror stories, I’m a firm believer in the good of people and well-researched hosts. For example, I wouldn’t stay in a place with zero reviews, at least as a female traveler at this point in my life. However, my numerous Airbnb experiences have all been positive and have provided for local advice and interesting conversation with longtime residents. Click here for $40 in travel credit when you sign up for Airbnb!
Live like a local
Research local etiquette and customs. Beware that some places close earlier or sometimes around lunchtime. Many places are closed on Sundays as that day is time normally spent with family. Dress modestly in churches in Rome, the Vatican, and Poland (and other conservative Catholic or Orthodox churches). Learn the tipping culture—it’s not customary to tip, as service tends to already be included. However, this isn’t already the case. Try to absorb as much of the local culture as possible to make the most of your visit to Europe and you’ll have an amazing journey.
- Check out what I should think you should see on your first visit there.
- Read about my favorite quiet spots in the capital city
- Check out these day trips to get out of the city and learn more about the UK
- Here’s what you need to eat.
- Consider taking a trip to Strasbourg, one of my other favorite cities in France.
- Take a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel to visit a real-life fairytale castle!
Do you have any more questions about visiting Europe?