Planning a trip to Europe can be very exciting, but it can also be a little unnerving. Some things are very different on the other side of the pond. No doubt you’ve done your research about travelling overseas—much like I did—but there were still a few small things that I didn’t learn until I was actually there. And I’d like to share them. Who knows? It might save you a little confusion while you are trying to get over your jet lag.
10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT EUROPE BEFORE YOU GO:
1. Getting Around
Public transportation systems in European countries are very sophisticated, and they are NOT just for poor people without cars. Everybody uses metros and buses and trams. It’s an easy way to get around. Also, Google Maps is your friend! This app will automatically download the metro map of whatever city you are in and can give you specific directions whether you are walking or taking public transportation. Use it! Need more tips? Rick Steves is the guru of all things Europe, so CLICK HERE for transit advice.
2. Ordering Coffee
Most cafes in Europe offer a wide selection of coffee (not just regular and decaf), and they go for quality, not quantity. If you want coffee like home, order the “Americano” and be sure ask for milk (and don’t be surprised if they charge you a small fee for it).
3. Trying Not to Get Run Over
No, not by cars. BIKES. Bikes are a big thing in Europe. They have bike lanes, and they mean it. Oftentimes, bikes have the right of way over pedestrians. Even if they don’t, watch your ass anytime you want to cross a street or even a sidewalk.
4. Riding an Elevator
When you use an elevator (or “lift”), know that the floors aren’t numbered the same way in Europe as they are in the US. In Europe, “0” is the ground floor, “1” is one floor up (second story to us), “2” is two floors up, etc. Consequently, the basement or below levels floors are “-1” and “-2” and so on.
5. Sleeping in Hotels
Hotel rooms are often smaller, European “doubles” are two twin beds pushed together to make a king (with one headboard but separate bedding), and washcloths are not always provided. Apparently, washcloths are considered “too personal” to be given to guest after guest. And contrary to what I always thought, I didn’t see one bidet the entire trip.
6. Taking a Tour
There are many companies that offer FREE walking tours of major cities in Europe. Yes, free! We used SANDEMANs New Europe Tours, but I’m guessing they all work the same way. You take a free tour of the city with a guide, and if you liked it, you tip your guide! You probably would spend about the same for a paid tour, but you don’t feel swindled if it doesn’t meet your expectations. Quite simple, but quite genius. Great for an overview when you first arrive at a new destination.
7. Going Up Mountains
Funiculars are also big in Europe. If a mountain provides a funicular to the top, it is because the hike will be long and difficult. Take the hint.
8. Using your Smartphone
Before you go, research the international data plan with your cell phone carrier. I found that the “free” data that came with my plan wasn’t sufficient. Especially when you are need your phone as a GPS or trip planner. The 2G free data doesn’t get you shit. CLICK HERE for some info to get you started.
9. Asking for Water
In most European countries, when you ask for water with dinner, you will get served bottled water (either still or sparkling), and it comes with a charge. Tap water is only provided when asked, and, depending on the country, is often frowned upon. But if you insist on asking, READ THIS first. Oh, you want ice, you silly American? In 18 days abroad, I was served ice with water only ONCE (in Czech Republic). I suppose you could also ask for ice, but do you really want to be that tourist who thinks that everything should be exactly the same as at home? Instead, embrace the European way.
10. Paying the Bill
If you want to pay the check after a meal, you will have to explicitly ASK for the bill. They will not bring it to you automatically, even if you are finished eating and sitting there expectantly. Dropping off the check before it is requested is considered rude, as if the server is trying to rush you out. Because in America, they usually are. On a related note, tipping is not necessarily expected and is different depending on which European country you are in. There are about a billion web sites that address this. Google it.
So those are my words of wisdom for your trip to Europe. I’m sure you will do your due diligence and spend hours researching the customs, language, currency, and major attractions of the country you plan to visit. But, trust me, this list will come in handy, too! Happy travels!
Check out my related post:
5 Things You Find All Over Europe (click here)