10 Tips you need to know:
1. Not everyone speaks English.
For those of you who have visited a European country before, I’m sure you’re thinking “most people do though…”, which is partly true; only 12% of people in Spain, 14% in Italy, 24% in France and 32% in Germany. This is based on the whole country, so in the major Cities these numbers are much higher, not to mention the number of English speaking tourists. Just be prepared to use body language and lots of pointing! Carrying a map makes this much easier.
Before visiting a new country, be sure to learn a few basic phrases. Even better, make it your aim to learn as many ways to say hello as possible. This gesture can go a long way; locals appreciate it and it’s respectful. You’re also more likely to enjoy your time in each place if communicating with the locals is made easier.
It’s easy to forget that the English language is not their first language; they are not obliged to speak it and you must respect that it’s taken time and effort to learn it. It can be quite frustrating if you need help and no one around you speaks English, but remember it’s the situation that’s frustrating, not the people who are unable to help.
2. You’ll end up not using a lot of what you pack.
All those clever ideas you researched about what to take? They’re not necessary! Before your trip, you’ll end up wasting money on items you won’t use and you’ll want to save that money for when you’re actually travelling.
If you do need to rid yourself of that hairdryer or those bulky shoes, make sure you donate them instead of throwing them out – there are plenty of shelters, refuges and charities who could benefit from your items. Alternatively, hostels are filled with travellers who may make use of them.
When travelling light, you have way more freedom. Travelling between countries can be a nightmare with bulky backpacks and suitcases. If you’re flying between countries, you wont need to check in baggage which saves a lot of time and is also much cheaper. If your flight or train isn’t until the evening and your hostel doesn’t have anywhere to store your luggage for the day, it wont be such a burden to carry your luggage around, plus smaller lockers are often cheaper!
If you think you’ll get cold, take a jumper and pocket raincoat instead of a coat. You can add as many layers as you need underneath it for those chilly evenings, but having a coat ends up being more of a burden than a blessing.
Don’t take those 5 books with you, buy from second hand bookstores for next to nothing and trade with other travellers and hostels as you go. Renting and exchanging is the way to go.
3. Get the correct travel adaptor.
This is the most important item to travel with, however you’ll need to make sure it’s universal rather than the common European adapter as the UK, Gibralta, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and Switzerland use different sockets from the rest of Europe. Be sure you know which each country uses as it’s more expensive to buy adaptors as you go.
It is also worth noting that USB leads can connect to any plug head as they are universal.
4. The euro is not for the whole of Europe.
As a matter of fact, only 19 of the 28 EU members use it and are mostly in Western Europe. There are 28 currencies used in Europe’s 50 countries altogether.
It is cheaper to pay in the local currency than in your own when paying by card. Make sure you withdraw money as few times as possible as many cards and ATMs have fees. Check with your bank prior to leaving as some cards have relatively low international usage fees. If yours is high, it’s worth getting a travel friendly debit card.
Make sure you find out how to let your bank know where you are in the world – failure to do this may result in your card being blocked!
Eastern Europe is hugely cheaper than western Europe and Scandinavia. Make sure you plan how much you’ll be spending before taking out a huge amount when in the East as you may find yourself stuck with a lot of leftover money that can’t be changed up. Always get rid of your coins as they are impossible to exchange. The most frustrating currency for this is Swiss Francs; a 5fr coin is of similar value to £5. Currencies like Hungarian Forint are hard to exchange back as they aren’t worth enough in other currencies.
5. Spontaneity is inevitable.
When preparing for a trip, it is very exciting booking and planning every step, researching and creating an itinerary, however you will always end up cancelling, changing and adding bookings as you go. This costs money to do and wasting money is the last thing you need when travelling. For those who find this too nerve wrecking, go with an itinerary in mind to put yourself at ease.
As you make friends along the way, your plans will change and some of the best places you go to are the ones you discover with others.
Ask locals, other travellers and your hostel reception and stop looking at Trip Advisor; it’s very time consuming to plan and change your trip constantly and you want to be the “yes!” man in all situations.
Slow down, stop looking stuff up, and enjoy the spontaneity that travelling brings. You can even go as far as not booking a return flight so that you don’t need to end your trip in a set place. There are some great flight and bus deals as you go – we travelled from Budapest to Krakow for £6!
6. Expect to learn a lot.
Regardless of how open minded you are, expect to have stereotypes broken. Spending quality time with locals can massively determine how you feel about each place you go to. With the huge numbers of museums, you’ll learn so much about the history of a place.
Going on tours is a must, especially if they are run by locals. Each tour will be different and cover various aspects of a countries history. If you, like me, struggle to learn in an academic setting then this is a great alternative. I always thought tours would be dull and that I wouldn’t engage well but I was positively surprised. Tours are often interactive and contain fun facts as well as historical; one of our tour guides even sang to us outside of the Prague opera house.
The real fun comes when you learn about the local food and drink, it wasn’t until I travelled that I realised just how many beers existed! There are a vast number of tours that accommodate various dietary requirements so don’t let that hold you back. Ask at your hostel or tourism shop for the best on offer.
You will also learn a lot from other travellers. There are so many well informed and interesting people that you will meet along the way who will share stories and information about various places around the world. Many hostel workers are from other countries and can give some top tip advice from a foreigner’s perspective. It is a great contrast to talking to locals.
7. European countries may be close in proximity but each one is different from the next.
Never fall into the idea that you won’t need to visit a country purely because it’s similar to one you’ve visited before, there are so many aspects that make each country different.
Some countries share the same currencies and language, but the culture is always different. Their political stance, their laws, their entertainment and transport are just some of the variations you will notice in each place you visit. Experiencing as many of these as possible will help you get the most out of travelling.
8. You will spend more than you think.
Despite all your best efforts to keep costs low be sure to budget for more than just food and accommodation.
There are multiple travel stories whereby people have been caught on public transport without the correct ticket or throwing cigarette butts on the floor and having to pay a fine. As much as you plan and assume there’s always a chance you will be fined for something or other. If in doubt, don’t do it!
Take into consideration rainy days; sunny days often mean spending less because there’s so much to explore but when the weather is bad (and this is Europe after all) be prepared to spend more money on indoor activities, eating in restaurants, sheltering in coffee shops and shopping malls and using public transport when you would normally walk.
Most, but not all, tourist attractions charge an entry fee, including landmarks, museums, bars and clubs. Make sure you don’t end up having to miss out on plans because you didn’t include the costs into your budget.
The real bummer that is impossible to get away from is conversion rates as mentioned earlier, your card will charge you for withdrawals and despite being minimal they soon add up.
Despite having travel insurance and your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), you may end up having to pay for medical care, not to mention stocking up on pharmaceuticals when you feel unwell. Pharmacies are extremely expensive in many places in Europe, even in the East.
I know we hate to think of worst case scenarios, but there’s always the chance of theft and/or accidently leaving your belongings behind. From someone who loses things often, it’s imperative that you can get by without them or able to replace them if they are important. An example of this is to carry a £10 phone in addition to your usual phone, which you can hand over if asked for it.
City tax is usually included in the prices on sites such as hostel world but don’t be too shocked if you arrive and find out that it isn’t. it’s not expensive but it’s still money you weren’t prepared to spend.
If you are booking transport as you go make sure you budget for baggage allowances and the more places you visit, the heavier your backpack tends to get, meaning it may be classed as hold luggage which adds to your costs.
Although tipping isn’t as big as in the USA, most places still add a service fee onto the bill when you eat at a restaurant. Be aware of this before you order so that you can avoid not having enough to pay. Also, if you’re in a bar, always order at the bar rather than get table service as the fee will be automatically added on.
Last, but not least, public transport can be pretty costly, especially in western Europe and countries with a stronger currency. To avoid paying fines it is advised to always buy a ticket, ask at the airport when you arrive to find out the best ones to get.
9. Your passport is used more for accommodation than transport!
I’ve travelled on trains where our passports weren’t even checked when crossing a border, and ended up using it more for hostels than for the purpose of a passport! It is actually an EU requirement for hostels and hotels to keep your information for their law-enforcement database. However, please make sure you get it back straight away – they are not allowed to keep it for the duration of your stay.
10. There are no alternatives to Tesco!
Need some cigarettes, paracetamol and pasta? I’m afraid you’ll have to go to 3 different shops! I’ve travelled most of Europe and am yet to come across a place that sells groceries, tobacco and pharmaceuticals in one place.
For groceries, you just need to go to a supermarket as normal, but medication can only be bought at pharmacies and tobacco can only be bought from specific tobacco shops. Just ask your hostel where your nearest shops are for each of these, they’re never too far apart!
Thanks for reading gang! Have a great first trip!