Traveling to Europe for the First Time

Canal-6You’ve got your passport ready for its first European stamp.  Perhaps you’re feeling a little nervous about the unexpected elements that come with traveling abroad.  Although you may be experiencing some fear, it really is not so different from visiting other states.  With some knowledge going in, you will be a pro as you step onto my favorite continent.  Here are some things you may want to consider before you go:

Electrical

Not only are the outlets visually different, but the voltage is different as well.  We’ve lost some hair dryers and straighteners because of this.  Another thing to consider is the difference between European countries.  If you are traveling to England and France, you will notice a difference.  To cover all of my needs in one shot, I use the Travel Smart by Conair.  Then, I don’t have to worry which adapter and converter I need, it is all together in one convenient package.

If you know that you will be traveling to these countries again, you may want to consider purchasing the necessities over there.  My aunt and I share a hair straightener that we bought in Paris.  It is something I use everyday, so the small investment is worthwhile since I don’t have to worry about my straightener going on the fritz.

Currency

Most countries in Europe use the Euro, but not all.  Make sure you research what currency you will need.  I typically go over with about 100 Euros and then I get the rest from ATMs.  This seems to be the best deal.

Besides having the right currency, you might want to consider where and how you spend it.  This past summer I realized that Switzerland is really expensive.  I bought minimal items there and only purchased souvenirs that were quintessential Swiss.

LanguagePiano Man at the Cabaret

English is spoken widely across Europe, but you shouldn’t go in expecting everyone to speak English.  Make sure you take some time to get the basics down.  Even if you are in a major city, and you think someone might speak English, start by saying hello in their language and asking if they speak English.  This is a courtesy that is appreciated.  Some key phrases you may want to work on are:

Hello/Goodbye

Toilet

Do you speak English?

How much does this cost?

Where is…?

Please

Thank you

Weather

Rain, wind, snow, hot, cold.  You name it, they’ve got it.  You can sometimes experience almost every type of weather on one trip.  Look up the climate for the areas you will be visiting, but only take this as a suggestion.  I have been to Paris when it is steaming and frigid (all in the same month).

Decide if a rain coat is best for you or if an umbrella will do the job.  I’m an umbrella kind of gal because I can stow it away easily.

Water

I drink tap water.  I have never been sick from the water in Europe.  I generally buy a bottle of water and refill it throughout the day.  Obviously this is a personal preference, but know that the water is about the same quality as we experience at home.

One fun thing to try is the water with gas.  We have it here in the states, but it is much more popular in Europe.  If you ask for a bottle of water they will respond with gas or no gas.  Give it a try if you never have.  The Europeans love it.  I am starting to appreciate it.

Tired Transportation

Getting around Europe is much more practical than getting around the US (especially without a car).  Flights are affordable, high speed trains make trips quick, and public transportation within cities makes every sight accessible.  Make sure you know what kind of public transportation is available.  I like to cut out the metro map from the guidebook to carry with me.  Be cautious though since they do change.

One thing you may want to prepare for are strikes.  I’ve noticed it most while traveling in Italy, but it is a way of life for them.  Luckily, they typically post strikes in advance so you can plan accordingly.  As with any cities public transportation, be prepared for issues.

Politics/News

Reading up on the political news is both smart and a safe move.  It is important to know if tensions are building between the country you are visiting and another group.  It is also important to understand how the public handles politics they disagree with.  It is possible that you may be in town when there is a demonstration or riot.  Know what to expect.  Our government has a great resource to check before you go: International Travel Information.

History

I love American History, but European history is so rich and multifaceted.  Their history extends millennia before we were a country.  Read up on a little bit of the history.  Determine what is most intriguing to you.  Perhaps you find the ancients fascinating.  If so, make sure you visit the sites containing this history.  Maybe you get a kick out of the military.  There are museums for you.  Europe is so full of history that it is probably impossible to know it all.  Going in with some basic knowledge of the history allows you to delve into what will mean the most to you.

ArtThe Thinker

I approach art the same way I do history.  I try to have a grasp on the different styles and how they have evolved.  Then I figure out what style I enjoy the most, and make a point of visiting places that support that style.  Art is history, so for those of you that don’t typically enjoy the art scene, view it as visual history; a form of storytelling.

Safety

I will speak about this more in the future, but make sure you are thinking about it.  When I say safety, I am mostly referring to pickpockets.  Violence does happen in Europe, but the main crime you might experience is theft.  Consider purchasing a money belt or buying a bag that is anti-left.  I love the PacSafe bags.

–What are some things you wish you new about Europe before you went?–

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