Must know travel tips for Europe

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Europe offers many dream destinations to avid travelers. If it is your first time, you can’t get over your desire to squeeze everything in it. I know the feeling. Been there, done that.

Welcome to Yourtravelsk’s must-know travel tips for Europe. Do you want to travel to Europe and want to make the best of your travel? You have come to the right place. Let’s begin.

Don’t bite more than you can chew

If it’s your first time in Europe, the tendency is trying to squeeze in everything on your itinerary. “I want to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome”. “Check this Instagram pic of Prague, want to go there”. “Oh and let’s go partying in Berlin too!”

Don’t let FOMO win. Pick a reasonable itinerary for the time that you have and based on your interests and goals. Allow for time to relax, and wander around with no particular goal. The less you move around, the less hassle with changing hotels, boarding a train or flight, etc. You don’t want to be spending most of the time moving around like a headless chicken!

To give you an idea, big cities like Paris or Rome deserve at the very least five full days, even though they can easily keep you busy for two weeks.

Book your flights early

As with happens with most intercontinental flights, make sure to keep an eye out for cheap flights as soon as you know the dates you’ll be traveling. Last-minute deals are very rare these days and you should be looking to buy your flight 2-3 months in advance.

You can also use Hopper or Skyscanner to have a sense of what’s a good deal.

Do not use Euronet ATM

Despite being literally everywhere in the major tourist cities in Europe, Euronet ATMs charge disproportionately high fees (up to 15%) to take out your money out. Recently, an ATM in Italy charged a tourist a lovely €40 transaction fee.

Prefer to use local ATMs – never use exchange bureaus! – and always request to be charged in local currency. In 90% of the cases, your bank will have a way better exchange rate than a money exchange company. I highly recommend getting a Revolut card to lower your bank fees abroad.

Indulge on local food

Seeing tourists heading to McDonald’s when they’re in Europe makes me enter a deep sadness spiral. The only thing worse is to see fellow travel bloggers to ENCOURAGE tourists to go to McDonald’s (I won’t drop names for the sake of elegance).

First of all, if you have any love for your body and health, you probably know you shouldn’t be going to McDonald’s in the first place. But hey, it’s your body, not mine.

My point is that food in Europe is so rich and varied and so deeply intertwined with the culture and traditions that if you’re not actively seeking to try local dishes and delicacies, you’re really missing out. Missing out on not only tasty food you won’t have the chance to try anywhere else but also on a big part of the country’s identity. I will soon have a blog to cover the best local food in various European countries.

Prefer trains in Western Europe

One of the best things about being born and living in Europe is how easy is to travel. Distances are relatively short and transportation cheap.

Because of this, there’s no need to use the plane all the time (even though it can be cheap to fly with low-cost airlines). Using alternative means of transport like buses and trains allows you to see the landscape, it’s cheaper and is much better for the environment.

Europe is very well connected by rail, particularly in Western Europe and you can move between countries in just a couple of hours.

If you’re traveling for a couple weeks, consider an Interrail card.

Prefer buses in Central and Eastern Europe

Trains are a great option but in Central and Eastern Europe, buses are more popular choices to travel from one country to another.

Check VISA requirements

While most countries in Europe don’t require a VISA for short visits, there are exceptions like Russia or Turkey. Make sure you do your research, including whether you can get a VISA online before your arrival or if it needs to be done when you land in the country.

As it stands right now, anyone coming from the United States doesn’t need a VISA for most European countries if you’re staying for less than 90 days. Citizens from other countries should check specific requirements.

A stricter European VISA system is expected to start in 2021, meaning that citizens from United States, Canada, and other countries coming to the EU will require to apply for a ETIAS Visa. Read more about it here.

Pack light

Another common mistake of travelers is to bring entire closets with them on a trip to Europe. A heavy and massive piece of luggage is not convenient at all when you’re navigating cobblestone streets, finding your way through a train station, trying to avoid extra baggage fees, or climbing up sets of stairs in a small guesthouse.

Be smart. Packing light is an art and, trust me, it will save you from much unnecessary hassle. Aim to bring clothes for 7-10 days, tops. If you happen to stay for longer, there’s something called “doing the laundry”. Laundromats are easily available throughout any major city in Europe.

One more reason to bring less stuff: you’ll want to buy stuff to bring back home, so better make as much room as you can from the start

Know how to stay safe

Research for Safety before travel. Read more on my blog General Europe specific tips are as below.

First of all, in general, Europe is a VERY safe place to be. Even places with bad reputation like Naples turn out to be great travel destinations.

It’s highly unlikely that tourists encounter any type of crime and even if it does happen, it’s petty theft that can be avoided with common-sense tips and precautions you’d also take back at home.

Avoid using flashy jewelry, don’t walk alone at night down dark alleys, watch out for your belongings in crowded places, and men: always keep your wallet in the front pocket. A money belt could be useful

These are just some of the known scams that can be found in touristy hotspots in Europe. People working in these scams don’t act alone and just intend to distract you while someone else in the gang goes after your belongings.

A small group of children asking you for money
ATM skimmers that will clone your card
All Euronet ATMs charge a ridiculously high fee
People approaching you from the side when you go to an ATM
People “helping” you buy tickets at train stations
Scammers asking you sign a petition

Tipping is not expected

In most countries in Europe, tipping is NOT expected and is entirely optional. Usually, you only tip when you feel the service has been exceptional, and never more than 10% of the total bill.

The tip is usually given in cash, using your small change. The card terminals that have the option to leave a tip are rare.

Travel off-season

Between the June and August months, most of Europe becomes a giant attraction park. Tourist attractions get impossibly long queues, Mediterranean beaches impossibly crowded, and popular restaurants have to be booked days or even weeks in advance.

To avoid this madness, visit in the off-peak months, anywhere from September to May. It will mean you’ll save some precious bucks in accommodation, airfare or even tours. Take advantage of cold months to visit the much less crowded top European attractions or visit one of the many Christmas markets.

Nevertheless, my favorite time to travel in Europe is during the shoulder season (April-May and September-October) when the weather is still pleasant in most countries but crowds are much more forgiving.

Drink the tap water

It may not be normal to drink tap water elsewhere in the world, but in Europe, you’re safe to drink from the sink pretty much everywhere in the continent. It explains why in some countries you’ll find more sparkling water than still water in supermarkets.

There’s absolutely no need to purchase plastic bottles in the supermarket. Bring a bottle and refill it in spigots in the streets and parks. Good for you, for your wallet, and for the environment.

Avoid hop-on hop-off buse

Going to Rome is much more than just seeing the Colosseum and visiting Paris is much more than taking a photo with Eiffel Tower in the background. This is why I hate hop-on-hop-off buses: they take you on a rushed tour to see a pre-defined list of monuments. But traveling is not kicking things off a list and a 30-min bus ride is not enough to “do a city”.

You’re much rather exploring independently on your own and even find local gems. If distances are too challenging, you can always take a bike (most cities have a public bike system) or use public transport – metro, trains, buses, and trams usually work really well. Plus, it’ll be way cheaper.

Toilets aren’t always free

Whenever you wander through Europe, one thing to keep in mind is access to toilets. While in some countries such as Portugal and Spain, you can enter any restaurant or café and use the toilet for free, this is not always the case.

In some countries, shopping malls, bus stations, and other public places might have turnstiles to enter the bathroom. Others even have dedicated staff to collect the money for the “entrance”. I’ve paid anywhere from 10 cents to 1 euro so it’s wise to keep small change with you. And beware restaurants may not allow people in bathrooms unless you’re a client.

Get to know the history

Despite being a small continent, Europe has a rich and fascinating history that is worth to go deep into.

From the Viking up north to the massive Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, from the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch discoveries era to the daunting WWII, there’s a lot to cover. Even if you’re not a history enthusiast, a trip to certain places in Europe is worth more than one hundred history classes!

Visiting museums in Europe is a great way to know some of the best stories and legends that created the world of today.

Never eat next to tourist attractions

One of the most important travel tips: get AWAY from tourist attractions to find the best local food. Because #TouristTraps!

Restaurants and places to eat next to major touristy areas often don’t care about the quality of what they’re serving because they know there are always people coming around. Not to mention prices can be seriously inflated.

Imagine going to Italy and eat an overpriced frozen pizza! To give you an idea, just a few years ago, in downtown Lisbon, a couple paid a whopping 250 euros for a dose of seafood rice, a “special” that was off the menu.

From my experience, you need to venture out of tourists downtown a bit to find the best local restaurants. Avoid places with menus that have pictures on it and spot where the locals (not fellow tourists) go. If you need some digital help, rely on apps that locals use on their everyday such as Foursquare or Zomato. Oh and skip TripAdvisor, filled with scams and fake reviews

Did you use these Europe travel tips on your trip?

Are there any other tips you recommend to travel around Europe smartly? Let me know below!

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