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  • Writer's pictureCaylie Poola

FIRST TIMER TIPS: European Travel

My apologizes for the 6+ month hiatus. In all honesty, travel is what inspires me most on this blog and I just haven't done a lot of travel since the summer! I've started & finished my first semester of grad school, and been adjusting/falling in love with my new life in Boston! My best friend left for the Peace Corps, moving away for over 2 years to be the best human ever in Uganda. Most of my friends have started 9-5s, my parents have started to do a little more traveling themselves, and all in all, its been a huge time period of change and transition in my life.


That being said recently I have been asked for more tips then usual for first-time European travelers. It got me thinking.... I don't really have a guide for generic traveling abroad tips. And in all honesty, a lot of it felt like common sense to me until I realized if you haven't taken a big tip before, or really left the US it just might not occur to you. So, I hope this helps because trust me, they help me no matter where I go in Europe.


Welcome to my First Timer Tips. Here I am going to list some travel hacks, things to remember, and reminders that can pretty much apply for any European travel. I'm going to keep it short, sweet and to the point. So, let's get into it:


1. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY:

When planning a trip to Europe, don't forget to plan ahead in how you want to spend money and budget. It's best to leave your debit card at home when heading to Europe for vacation or study abroad, as it generally just isn't the safest to travel with. Personally, I have a Bank of America travel credit card that is GREAT for all of my trips. I earn helpful rewards, it is accepted pretty much universally and is overall a great card if you plan on traveling a lot. Before you leave, make sure to call your bank and notify them which card you'll be using and where/when. If you don't do this they WILL assume you have been hacked and you'll probably have to deal with hours of calling your bank and having no access to your card. All of my cards are Visas, and I have never had any problems, but my friends with Discover or more "off brand" cards that aren't built for travel have been in many scenarios where a store or restaurant just does not accept it as a payment form. Be aware of this and have cash so you are prepared! I also pre-order Euros beforehand through my Bank of America app, although I'm sure most banks offer this service. Purchasing Euros through your bank is the most reliable and budget-friendly way to do it. Cash exchanges are everywhere in European cities, but the conversion rates are ridiculous and you will waste SO much money doing this. Get majority of your anticipated Euros beforehand and save yourself the hassle, you'll probably still need to go to a cash exchange but it'll save you *some* money in the beginning.


2. HAVE EUROS ON YOU AT ALL TIMES:

Typically, in the US a business will tell you that they don't accept cash. However, in Europe, I find this to be the opposite. Especially in places where taxi culture is the norm and Ubers aren't mainstream, having Euros on you is crucial. Many taxis won't go out of their way to tell you they only accept cash until you arrive at your destination, and if you don't have any you might be in a really sticky situation. In general, I have always found places in Europe prefer you use cash over card.


3. ZIPPER UP:

Pickpocketing can happen anywhere. But as a visitor in a country where you are CLEARLY an American tourist in can make you stick out like a sore thumb. Be cautious of your things and keep all of your belongings in a purse with a button or zipper, this will make it harder for pickpockets to access your things and ensure you won't have a *mental breakdown* realizing you lost your passport and wallet. Keep a small wallet on you, that you can hold easily and never take all of your cash/ID/cards with you at one time. Always have a backup form of ID/extra money at your Airbnb, Hostel or Hotel.



4. SCAN YOUR DOCUMENTS BEFOREHAND:

This is one of my most important tips. Before you leave home, make sure you scan/take photos of a few things: Your passport, drivers license, and COVID vaccine card. Europeans have a much smarter system of keeping track of COVID vaccinations with the EU digital certificate. Americans are stuck with a flimsy piece of paper. You will likely be asked to show proof of vaccination although this may change as time goes on. Either way, be safe and scan your COVID card as a document in your notes app along with your passport and drivers license. If you lose any of this it will be a HUGE inconvenience, but having a backup copy is KEY to navigating the situation if it were to occur. For longer trips, I also print a copy of my COVID card, Passport and Drivers License, keeping it in a folder in my carry-on at all times. I also recommend purchasing a COVID Card protector from Amazon or a passport cover with one included to protect your real COVID card while traveling.


5. PLUGS 101:

This one is simple. US plugs do not work abroad. We do not have the same outlets. Do research on your specific destination and order a compatible converter on Amazon beforehand. This is so easy to forget but can be very inconvenient.


6. WATTAGE:

Plugs aren't the only thing that's different... With converters and European plugs presents a different amount of wattage. I am no scientist or tech gal, so I can't explain this in a logical way but I can tell you this: Your hair straightener, Dyson, curling iron, anything like this will NOT work in Europe or the UK. It WILL break or not work at all. Unfortunately there is no way around this that is reliable and safe. If you need a hair tool, I'd buy a cheap one once you arrive in your destination, or do what I do: Give your hair a break for a little while.


7. PHONE PLANS:

This really depends on your service carrier, but generally speaking always call your carrier beforehand and let them know when/where you're going. I have Verizon and they don't have the best set-up for travelers (in my opinion). If I am going away for a shorter time I typically pay $10 a day for a travel pass, giving me data and phone usage at a limited, but generous amount daily. I also have WhatsApp and text family and friends on there while I'm away. Although, I can't tell you why. Everyone in Europe uses WhatsApp though, so it wouldn't hurt to have. In fact, most of my European Airbnb hosts contact me through WhatsApp NOT iMessage. It's just the norm.


8. DON'T TIP *most of the time*:

This one is a tough pill to swallow for American culture, but tipping is just not really the norm in Europe. While many American tourists undoubtedly tip unknowingly and servers smile to themselves about making a little extra money, it is NOT expected or common for typical day to day purchases. Unless you receive amazing 10/10 service, there really is no need to do so. Sometimes there is a service charge included, although a lot of the time servers are paid better in Europe, whereas in the US, tips are seen as how servers make their income. If you do tip, it only needs to be around 10%. I'd say 90% of the time I do not tip and trust me I have never been given a look, or been seen as rude for this. It's just normal. And it'll feel a little weird, out of character even, but you'll save a little bit of money and look less touristy - trust me.


9. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MARKETS:

If you are staying in one place for more than a few days I 1000% recommend you grab some fresh produce and groceries at local markets and try cooking at "home"! This can save you money and be a great way to experience the place in a different way. Eating out is so fun, and one of my favorite parts of vacation and travel, however, the food in Europe is unbelievably fresh and delicious! The dried fruit at markets is my all time favorite snack. They are so fun to explore and it can be a great break from eating out. To save money and time, I will typically at least get snacks/breakfast essentials from the grocery store/market to eat at "home" and eat out the rest of the day. Also going to a grocery store in a new country is a great way to experience the culture, I do this everywhere I go and always buy a few unique snacks to try. PS. Most markets just take cash, so remember your Euros!


10. AIRBNBS OVER HOTELS:

I am a HUGE fan of Airbnbs when traveling. They are so easy and spacious, and they also give you a much more authentic feel for the place you are visiting. A lot of mine have been in classic apartment buildings with locals and I truly love experiencing a place from this POV. I also find them to be much more affordable and have amenities a hotel would charge more for, or not have, such as a kitchen, laundry, living space, etc... I also have loved connecting with hosts in some places, as many provide us with booklets of local recommendations, tips, and a perspective I just don't think hotels can cater to. I have had great experiences using Airbnb and will continue to choose Airbnb in the future. Also, many places in Europe have luggage lockers where you can check your luggage in if you check out or check in at an inconvenient time and want to explore while you wait! I have also stayed at some pretty cool hostels, which I don't mind either, I just typically prefer a private room in them with my friends. I have specific links to some of my favorite hostels/Airbnbs on my weekender guides - check them out!


11. TAXI:

Many places in Europe have a successful and popular taxi system instead of Uber. When I was in Paris we were actually told that although Ubers exist, to give business to the taxi drivers instead. Taxi drivers are great in Europe. They REALLY know where they're going and are easy to find. When leaving any airport, it is super easy to grab a taxi to take you to your final destination. Make sure to check with your taxi driver as to what payment they accept beforehand, since some taxi drivers will only take cash which isn't always convenient or doable. Taxi drivers making a living off of tourists who visit their city and I think it is super important to continue supporting them instead of Ubering all the time like we do in the US.


12. HELPFUL APPS (that I actually used)

  • Google Translate: I absolutely love their feature where you can take a photo of something and get a translation, this is super helpful for menus that don't have an English translation. (BTW, the best restaurants do not have an English menu)

  • Omio: I love Omio for booking trains when traveling to multiple cities within the same country. It is super user friendly and easy to navigate.

  • WhatsApp: Like I said before, everyone uses WhatsApp but Americans. I don't know why, but it's true.

  • appTaxi: At least when I was in Italy and there was no Uber, appTaxi allowed me to schedule and find taxis in areas or at times they were harder to find. I believe this only works in Italian cities.

  • Google Maps: A classic. I love this for finding transit directions, walking routes, etc... An oldie but a goodie.

13. MEDICINE:

Unless you know you are traveling somewhere primarily English speaking, I would plan ahead and pack your go-to medicine beforehand. While most countries have alternatives that are essentially the same thing as Tylenol, Advil, Tums, etc... they won't be called the same things or it might not be as obvious. Most people typically gravitate towards certain versions or brands for medicine, and if you resonate with that sentence it doesn't hurt to be prepared! I also bring a few protein bars, go-to small snacks just incase, especially in smaller cities/towns, it might be hard to find items like this! (I can be picky, so this might not apply to everyone).



If you're headed to Europe anytime soon, this is a solid place to start for the basics & being prepared for your trip. There is truly nothing like visiting other countries and getting to know new people, cultures and places. I am so excited for you! You are going to have the best time, and when in doubt - you have my guides.


See you next time, and I promise it won't be 6 months from now.








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