Useful Tips for Europe
We have bumped into scenarios in Europe that required us to learn how to deal with various issues, and over time, we began to realize that we had "learned" a number of useful methods to utilize while traveling in Europe.
- Always Carry cash: Have a large number & a wide variety of local currency (remember not every European Country utilizes the Euro currency) coins & cash with you. You will be amazed at how often they don’t take credit or you are going to need the exact change. As an example, some public restrooms require a coin to open a stall - and - some grocery stores require a coin to release a cart from the security rack.
- Credit Card Usage: Your credit card may not always work in Europe, because they utilize the "Chip and Pin" technology. These days most U.S. cards have the chip but not the pin. Your credit cards will work in many places in Europe but not all. The metro stations are areas famous for not accepting U.S. credit cards. If you use a station with no ticket office attendant it could be an issue so try your card in advance if at all possible.
- Local Language: Learn some of the language and get yourself a phrase book or use an app to practice the language for each country you plan to visit, it always makes locals appreciate your efforts to speak their language. Yes, the English language is taught in most European school systems from the second grade onwards, but that does not mean that the locals you bump into are going to want to speak in English - or even to be willing to try!
- Remember: You are not in "your country" and make an effort to be polite to local people. It is important to remember that if you sit at one of their restaurant tables and the main topic of your conversation is what you do not like about their Country - they generally are going to be able to understand what you are saying.
- European Driving: It can be an adventure all by itself, do not expect to find easy parking places in many areas, streets are more narrow and bicycles and motorcycles and scooters are everywhere! Lane splitting (by scooters, bicycles & motorcycles) is very common. If you plan to drive be prepared for this and make sure you have a navigator in the passenger seat.
- Mapping Application: Using a mapping system is a definite must, paper maps are out of date as soon as they are published. You will find in certain countries that streets will turn from one way to two way, and then back again. Using an up to date mapping system can save a lot of headaches.
- Auto Rental: If you rent a car, make sure that the auto rental company will pay the highway and/or tax tolls you will incur as you drive (Auto Europe provides this device for free). Most auto rental companies either equip their cars with RFID devices, or can provide you with one if you inquire. Otherwise, you will be stopping at every toll booth that you encounter on the major highways.
- Public Transportation: It is usually very good in Europe. In Paris for example, the French Rail system is excellent and inter-connects with the Paris Metro System at various stations. In many European countries, the major airports are located above a Rail Station.
- European Airlines: Use less expensive European Airlines versus flying with US Airlines - There are a number of low cost European Airlines, ie; Easyjet, Ryanair, Flybe, Thomas Cook, TUI Airways, Wizz Air and TAP Portugal. To do this effectively, pick a major European city hub as your “entry/exit portal” and then connect from there to the cities you want to visit by either low cost European Airlines or by Rail. Watch out for hidden costs in baggage fees, etc.
- Dining: Europeans typically eat dinner later than Americans - eating dinner at 8 or 9PM is common. Many restaurants close down and are not even open prior to the late dining hour (7:30PM generally). When traveling with kids prepare for this and settle for less formal dinner earlier in the evening or make sure the kids have napped and don’t get over hungry if you plan a late meal out.
- Tipping: It is not very common to tip in Europe. In the more touristy areas waiters and waitresses may expect it. However, typically, they earn a regular wage and aren’t expecting it. They will come to your table with the credit card machine and enter the amount on the bill. If they seem to wait for you to say how much then they are expecting a tip. About 10% is reasonable in this case. Of course, you can always leave some if you had a fantastic experience. Let the waiter know before he enters the amount on the credit card machine - however check your bill first, because if your group is large, or your bill is large, sometimes the tip is already included in your bill.
- Air Conditioning: It is not always typical for hotels and restaurants to have air conditioning in Europe. If this is important to you check out whether they have air conditioning before you book. Keep in mind that many places expect you to close the heavy shutters they have during the day to keep out the sun and heat. This can work very well and keep a place cooler and comfortable. Some hotels will have A/C but will turn it off during the hot afternoon to keep costs down.
- Tours: Day trip tours via bus as opposed to driving - Taking a bus day trip, one that offers a tour guide who will narrate the trip, is a very good way to visit locations outside of the city you are visiting. The bus seats are usually comfortable, and the cost is probably cheaper than renting a car. You arrive relaxed and ready to tour.
- Obtain Tickets in Advance Online: Obtaining tickets in advance via the Internet will save you a lot of time once you are at your desired city. Lines can be very long during tourist season in Europe. Look for online tickets for the most popular destinations like the Eiffel Tower or the Uffizi Museum in Florence Italy. In certain cities, you can find that popular places are included in the price of a "city ticket" like for example, the Paris Pass.
- Cell Phones: Cell phones have become a required resource when traveling abroad. Determine if your cell phone provider has an international plan. For example: AT&T has a $10 per day all you can use Data and Talk for certain family plan users. Other options include getting a local SIM card and putting it in your phone when you get there. Figure this out before you travel because contacting local places and using maps is going to be important and you do not want to be charged for "cellular phone roaming"!
- Accomodations: Hotels in all of the major European cities are generally expensive, and you may find that the lower tier of the available hotels is either not to your standards or worse. Consider utilizing VRBO or any of the other apartment rental services. We have used VRBO in all of the European Countries we have visited, and we have been happy with the results. One of the advantages of a rental apartment versus a hotel room is that you will generally have kitchen facilities and a refrigerator.
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