I’ve been travelling Europe for over a decade now, from Amsterdam to Reykjavik, it’s been an amazing experience. Some of the best moments of my life have been created travelling all over the continent but that’s not to say that it didn’t also come with a few mistakes along the way…
With that in mind, I’ve put together a little list of all the travel lessons I’ve learnt travelling around Europe that may help you, whether you’re planning on taking a backpacking gap year, heading there for a city break or taking your annual holiday…
Weigh up guided tours
Tours can be the best part of travelling Europe but they can also be tiring to say the least. Make sure you know as much about your tour as you need to before booking. For me, the plus sides of tours will mean you get a great overview of a destination with a knowledgeable guide in tow, without the stress of figuring out how to see as much as possible. Think of it a bit like one of those sightseeing buses but more personal. If you’re travelling alone, then it’s a great opportunity to make friends too – I’ve made mates on tours that I still know to this day. However, what tours don’t give you is a sense of freedom, you are bound by the itinerary, unless it has periods of free time but these are often few and far between.
Ultimately, it depends how you want to travel – do you want to be free to do ‘your own thing’ or would you rather have the planning done for you. You could even have the best of both worlds by booking a tour but then leaving yourself a few days either side to do anything you missed and get to know the country’s culture on your own terms. I did this in Nice and saw so much more, including the incredible MAMAC art museum in the heart of the city.
“Say ‘yes’ to the things that scare you.”
Seeing everything can be tricky
Seeing as I always want to see as much as possible, this one is probably the toughest lesson I’ve learnt. You’ll always feel like you need more time in the day to see the odd sight that you’ve missed. For example, I’ve never seen the Sagrada Família in Barcelona – a key sight that I should have had time for. Lack of time and poor planning were my issue, so now I always make a list and plan an itinerary in Google Maps before flying out, leaving time for local recommendations when I get there. Each sight is also listed in priority order, in case there’s a reason I can’t fit it all in. Just remember, you can have an extensive plan but the chances are you’re always going to miss something but that’s not always a bad thing. It just gives you a reason to go back!
“No two places are ever the same.”
Adapters are key
You will absolutely need an adapter to charge your phone, laptop, camera and other electronics you need to plug in. Most sockets in Europe take two round or rectangular prongs. I forgot mine when I went to Florence, which means I missed out on capturing all of the beautiful architecture and copious amounts of gelato at a family-run spot that I can no longer remember the name of near the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
“Aim to travel and have no regrets.”
Hotels vary in quality
If you see a hotel room as somewhere to sleep and store your things, then this lesson won’t bother you. If you’re seeing it as more of a place to stay, then you may need to adjust your expectations. European hotels can often be smaller than others around the world. It’s due to a lack of space in ageing cities, such as Paris and Rome. There have been times where I’ve had to live on my bed and others where there’s not any room to unpack. Just don’t accept bugs, mould and a lack of running water, also, specify if you’d like a twin room or not otherwise you may end up in a double with your travel partner!
“At some point you’ll begin comparing your travels to life at home.”
Budgets are important
Try and budget before you leave for your trip. Make sure you have enough local currency to hand so you don’t have to take out any in your destination. Otherwise you may find out the hard way, like I did in Turkey, that there’s a limit. When away, I’d recommend taking out as much as you think you’ll need in a day and leave the rest in your room’s safe. If you’ve got more than one currency, try and keep them separate otherwise it can get a little confusing! Lastly, don’t forget to inform your bank that you’ll be going abroad so you can use your cards abroad without being blocked – this also happened to me in Greece…
“If you have an excuse not to do something now, you always will.”
Make the most of travel tech
Download all the apps you need before leaving; Google Translate, XE Currency, Google Maps and the Time Out app. It’s probably best to aim for a currency converter, translator, travel guide and mapping tool – these helped me a hell of a lot in Fuerteventura, for example, where I drove the entire island. Not only that, make sure you have enough room on your memory card for all the photos you can take. Looking back on my travels is one of my favourite things to do, especially when travelling with others – memories are irreplaceable. Just don’t spend your entire journey behind your mobile or camera.
“No amount of currency is ever enough, there’s always something else you could buy.”
Always take local recommendations
Some of the best spots I’ve found whilst travelling have come from local recommendations, so always leave time during your travels for random exploration. Seek the authentic, don’t always take the easy option of the local shopping centre or most-visited neighbourhoods. When I visited Berlin, I took a trip to the little-known neighbourhood of Kreuzberg for its amazing street-art, all based on the back of a recommendation from a local cafe owner. Take the time to walk around your recommendation too, in doing so, I also found one of the best coffee spots in the city in the same neighbourhood.
“Slow and steady exploration is often the best – it’s not a race.”
Try new foodie experiences
Don’t attempt to diet on your travels – it’s one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. I’ve had some of the most delicious dishes on my travels by not limiting myself. Just a few points to remember, water will come bottled in most restaurants or cafes and is therefore, chargeable. Breakfast is normally a selection of pastries, ham, cheese, toast and muesli – nothing too heavy, so stock up if you’re out for most the day. Don’t opt for the regular chains you’d head to at home like McDonald’s or Starbucks, find a family-run restaurant or a quirky cafe that’s been there forever where all the locals converge. Just try everything once at least once, even if it is fermented shark.
“Life is simpler abroad when you have less choices to make.”
Pack for all weather conditions
Europe has a vast majority of climates, so you’ll need to pack for them. The last thing you want is to get ill on your trip or have to spend your currency on gloves because of a lack of preparation – don’t go to Belgium Christmas markets without them. If you’re heading into mountainous areas, you may need boots and a weatherproof jacket whereas if you’re going to head to a beach then you may want to take your swimsuit and suncream. Just remember when you’re packing for your flight, to either pay for extra luggage or wear your heaviest items on the plane. And never forget a trusty pair of trainers – always opt for comfort over style.
“Never misplace your passport – it’s the one thing you should always keep with you.”
Use public transport
Europe, for me, has the best public transport systems in the world – they’re cheap, easy to understand and ideal for getting around major cities when your feet just can’t walk anymore. You’ll save so much money than you would if you opted for taxis and if you opt for travel cards, in most countries, all types of transport are included for 24-hours to a week. If you have a lot of sights to see in a limited amount of time, this is an easy way to tick them off your list. For advice on travelling Europe, take a look at GoEuro.
“Let go of the material – all you really need is a sense of adventure.”
Learn language basics
Before you go, try and learn at least a few of the basic phrases for a few of the destinations you’re planning on visiting. The locals will really appreciate it and you’ll get more of a cultural feel for the places you visit. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of Europeans do speak English but it shows a little more respect if you at least attempt to speak in the native tongue. Failing that, saying “your English is better than my ___” can help start a conversation, if you’re struggling. Life-long friends can be made by attempting to speak another language as I found out in Athens, when I was mid-emergency and helped out by a local teen in a wi-fi bar.
“Always make time for someone else’s stories – you’ll never know how they’ll impact your life.”
Talk to like-minded travellers
On your travels, it’s not about where you’re going, it’s about who you’re going with. Whether that’s on your own or as a group of friends or family, speak to other travellers around you. You’re all there to experience the destination you’ve arrived at, they may have tips you haven’t thought of and not just that, human interaction on your travels can create friendships or even relationships that’ll last forever.
This post is in collaboration with GoEuro – making travelling in Europe as easy and accessible as possible. To read more European travel lessons, check out other posts in their #travellessons campaign or their blog. All views are, as ever, our own.