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Whirlwinds: Tips For Travel to Europe

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Having just returned from a wonderful nine days in Europe to attend the wedding of a former exchange student and visit friends, Hubby and I would like to share some tips to encourage more of you to travel there – or wherever the travel bug leads.

1. Get your passport NOW and start saving money to travel. Currently U.S. passports take 7-10 weeks to get. You can request an expedited passport, but that costs a lot more. Passports are good for 10 years.

2. Try to learn a few phrases in the local language where you are traveling. You don’t need to be fluent, but a bitte (please), danke (thank you) and counting to 10 go a long way toward making your hosts more friendly. Most Europeans we have met are usually able to converse in English, at least enough to take your order at a restaurant or do a transaction in a shop.

3. Buy an electrical plug adapter for the country you are visiting. Be aware that many countries have 220v not 110v like the U.S. Your electronic devices will usually charge just fine at the other voltage, so you don’t need a transformer. Check your razor and hair dryer to see if they have a 110/220 switch, many do. USB ports are becoming more common, but in older hotels, hostels and homes they aren’t always available.

4. Pack for your trip and then take half of it out and leave it at home. You don’t need that many outfits when traveling as they’ll never know that you wore that shirt four days ago. There are options to wash clothes when traveling. Underwear can be washed in your sink and many European hotels have little pull-out clotheslines if you have a bathtub.

5. Don’t pack your American attitude. Don’t be that ugly American. Always be polite and accepting of their culture. After all that’s why you are traveling, to see something we don’t have here. Always remember their culture is often centuries older than our country.

6. Always try new foods, NEVER eat at a McDonalds while overseas. We love to find the little hole in the wall cafes. They have the best food, best atmosphere and are usually way cheaper.

7. Leave your Discover card at home, it is not used in Europe. VISA and MasterCard are accepted at many places, but you need to ask first. Most Europeans pay for meals with cash, so it is a good idea to carry 200-300 Euros (or whatever the local currency is) with you. You can get Euros from an ATM with your local bank ATM, there will be fees, but they aren’t bad.

8. Hotels and homes in Northern Europe often don’t have air conditioning, they rarely need it. If you want it, you will have fewer choices of places to stay. Many hotels don’t have breakfasts or parking either. Check first before booking. Many hotels don’t have elevators, or they are very small. Another reason to pack light.

9. Toilets, assume any toilet in a cafe will be upstairs or downstairs and be in a little corner somewhere. When the building was built they probably didn’t have indoor toilets and they don’t have ADA. There are usually two buttons on the toilet to save water. For #1 press the small button or the button on the right when facing the toilet. #2 is the large button or the left button. Toilets in train stations and shopping areas usually are coin-operated so be sure to have change in the local currency if you need that service.

10. Showers are usually small and have limited hot water. Get wet, turn the water off while soaping and then rinse quickly.

11. Speaking of water, don’t expect a glass of water when seated at a cafe. Water has to be ordered and paid for like any other drink. Water is either still or bubbly and is usually bottled mineral water. Also, you will rarely get ice in any drink.

12. Many cafes have menus in English if you ask politely. If not, go to their website and view the menu on your phone and it will usually translate it automatically.

13. Check before you travel to see if your phone and phone plan is compatible in the country you are visiting as it can be expensive if you have the wrong plan.

14. Wear comfortable walking shoes and expect to walk a lot more than you do here.

15. Driving is an experience. Rental cars are usually stick shift. Streets are often narrow and rather curvy. Roundabouts are everywhere. You will get honked at, just expect it and don’t get upset.

16. If possible, take the train. Passenger trains are much better in Europe than in the U.S. In Europe they have ICE trains that have limited stops, regional trains to smaller towns and many towns have local trains. Americans can get a travel pass for a certain number of days or buy each ticket separately. You can reserve a seat on the ICE trains and it is a good idea as they are often full.

17. Do your research before you travel. Don’t try to do too much in a day. This is a vacation, enjoy it. Plan on sitting at a cafe and watch the world walk by while sipping a beer or wine or coffee.