This is a guest blog post by Hydaway ambassador Zelphia Peterson. Follow her on Instagram @z_claire29.
I have been to Europe about half a dozen times, and have made it to about half a dozen European countries. That doesn’t make me an expert, but it has given me a pretty solid foundation for what to expect in a variety of situations. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to give you an idea of what to expect and to make your own trip to Europe easier.
- Wear practical and appropriate footwear. This is the number one rookie mistake. Europe, unlike America, was made for walking. Lots of it. Everywhere. Leave your heels behind and stick with something comfortable and supportive. And unless you’re going hiking, leave the hiking boots at home.
- Dress appropriately. Americans are known for their casual approach to dress, including jeans, sneakers, and a baseball cap with everything. Europeans tend to be more polished and put-together, so anything outside of those norms will stand out and potentially make you a target. It’s recommended to avoid neon colors, obvious brand names, sweatpants/sweatshirts, athletic wear outside the gym (including shoes), and casual denim. Opt for comfortable walking shoes, dark/black jeans or khakis, and a nicer jacket.
- Pack light. Remember how we said Europe was made for walking? That extends to a certain amount of travel with your luggage. Pack only what you can easily carry, because you’ll likely have to get it through public transportation and up and down stairs (some older hotels don’t have elevators). For a guide to packing light, check out this blog. Also, backpacks are not as commonplace in Europe, and can make you vulnerable to theft & pick pocketing. A small purse or messenger bag will blend in better (and also is more likely to be allowed in museums).
- Use the bathroom whenever you can. Public restrooms are just not common in Europe! Tourist attractions will usually have facilities, but don’t count on being able to pop into a convenience store or use a restaurant’s bathroom.
- Bring ibuprofen or advil in the original packaging. Both of these are prescription in Europe, so there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to grab some from a drugstore. Keeping it in the original packaging also helps make passing through customs easier.
- Learn a few words of the language(s) in the country you visit. Not only will this give you instant street cred with the locals, it’s also just polite. A little effort can go a long way, and you’ll be amazed at the appreciation it can spark. And even though most people in larger cities will have a pretty good grasp on English, not everyone will. You can save yourself some hassel by learning a few key words and phrases.
- Be self-aware. Keep track of your surroundings, keep a read on the general atmosphere and attitudes of people around you, pay very close attention to social cues, and be smart. Some of this is general courtesy, but some of it can save you a lot of trouble. Are you getting dirty looks while having an animated conversation? Maybe turn the volume down. Is the street you’re on really crowded? Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket. Traveling in a group? Try to keep to a single file and allow traffic to flow around you. Remember, you’re a guest in this country, so follow the societal rules and be aware of your surroundings. Your actions will always have an impact, so do your best to ensure it’s positive.
- Have a plan. I know, I can hear all the spontaneous people groaning at this one. But in Europe, having a plan will only help you. My tip is to pick a part of the city you’re visiting, choose one or two major “things” to do per day in that part of the city, and enjoy everything in that neighborhood. Save yourself headaches by doing some research in advance for when attractions are open, what the transportation situation looks like, and what you want to see or experience along the way. If you like being more spontaneous, schedule some free afternoons as “free time” and go where your heart takes you.
And now, what not to do.
- Rush. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the moment. Rushing around all the time is a distinctive American trait. At best, it will immediately peg you as a foreigner. At worst, it can be considered rude (especially at mealtimes). You’re experiencing another culture and another way of life, savor it!
- Eat fast food. Listen, I know there’s a McDonald’s everywhere now, and I know you’re dying for a good cheeseburger after a few weeks, but seriously, resist the temptation. We have that in the US; go eat some food that you can’t find here. Try something you can’t pronounce. Find a tiny little restaurant with 3 tables. Trust me, there is so much good food to find, don’t deprive yourself of that.
- Make yourself a target. This goes along with “being self-aware” from the list above, but it’s such an important one. Part of not making yourself a target means not making it blatantly obvious that you’re an American, not walking alone late at night, not drinking too much alcohol, and so on and so forth. But especially in bigger cities, it can also mean not carrying your phone or wallet in your pocket, leaving your purse open, or carrying anything important in a backpack (pickpockets are crafty). Be smart and minimize your risks.
- Engage with panhandlers. This goes along with the previous point. Panhandlers are common throughout Europe, and most Americans just aren’t prepared to deal with how pushy and insistent panhadlers can seem. Be firm with your “no’s”, understand that someone handing you a trinket or bracelet will expect to get paid, and avoid eye contact if absolutely necessary. I’ve witnessed situations that got quite heated very quickly, and it’s usually best to avoid those if possible.
- Ask for ice in your beverage. This is a typically American thing, so avoiding this can help you blend in a bit better. Trust me, it will still taste fine. In some countries though, ice can be a health concern if it isn’t made or stored with good food hygiene. Play it safe!
- Rely on a credit card. Ok, let’s be real, credit cards are pretty much indispensable for travel these days. There are a lot of cards with great rewards and low or nonexistent travel fees, and carrying around a giant wad of cash is more of a liability than a security blanket. But don’t expect that every place you go will be able to take a card. Keeping the local equivalent of around $50 USD on your person at all times can be a great way to cover your bases while minimizing risk.
- Impose your own expectations. We all have expectations to some extent. But if you go through Europe (or anywhere, for that matter) with a preconceived notion of the way things are, the way people behave, or how something is supposed to look, you will be disappointed. For example, not all French people are rude. Glamorous cities like Paris might be way dirtier than you thought. Standards of living vary widely, and just because it’s different to you doesn’t make it wrong, and you shouldn’t assume that someone is unhappy. Keep an open mind, and don’t hold too tightly to your version of the way things are “supposed” to be.
- Forget to have fun! Even for the experienced traveler, going somewhere new can be stressful. Don’t forget to be present in the moment and have fun where you are.
Hopefully this can give you a better idea of what to expect as a traveler in Europe. There’s so much to see and do – enjoy the journey!