Some Travel HAcks when travelling in Europe: Europe is very tourist friendly! Mostly it’s also very easy to understand the transport system, street signs, restaurant menus in tourist areas have an English translation. However, Europe is not one country, so it also depends on the place.
Here’s some simple travel hacks you can do when traveling to Europe
Make use of a free walking tour shortly after arriving in a city. They will help you orient yourself, learn some historical context/background, and while you typically don’t enter most of the attractions you see during the tour, they can help you identify which places you definitely would like to come back to on your own/which ones you really think will be worth your money.
They can also often give
Lots of people offer tips about exchanging currency. Absolutely avoid the airport and hotel exchanges whenever possible – but I would avoid currency exchange stations altogether and just use ATMs to get cash. They will give you the best exchange rates, most of the time, without any gouging to try to turn a profit off the exchange.
Some banks or certain cards will also do it without even charging you a fee – but make sure you check what your specific card/account policies are. If your current account doesn’t have favourable policies, you could consider opening an account for travel with a bank that’s in the Global ATM Alliance which gives you no fees whenever you use an international bank that’s in the alliance – and most countries in Europe have at least some coverage of those banks (just make sure you have a list somewhere with you of what banks count in each country!).
However, I like my bank, so I just accept that I pay a flat $5 fee when I take out cash, and take out the maximum amount that I will need before changing currencies (since so many places use the Euro now, this can go a long way). It’s also possible to call your bank and get them to increase your daily withdrawal limit so that you can minimize the number of times you have to pay this flat fee.
Speaking of calling your bank – do it. Let them know that you will be travelling, and where, and when, so that they don’t close your accounts due to ‘suspicious activity.’ It can be much harder to try to deal with that when you’re abroad, and if you’re like me and depend on being able to use your ATM card, it’s a hassle for them to cancel it. Just in case, this is why I also usually bring just a small amount of local currency with me, that I order from my bank in advance.
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Transportation: Planning vs. freedom
The more you can plan things in advance (esp. your itinerary), the more money you can save. If you want to have flexibility, you generally will have to pay for it. In particular, this applies to trains. Trains are a fantastic way to travel around Europe.
Most places are linked to train routes, they are frequent in most common destinations, you get a lot of gorgeous views while you travel, and they are often affordable, especially within countries. So I definitely recommend using them.
Most train tickets can be purchased with flexibility – this includes the Eurail Passes a lot of people promote, but also flexible within country options – but you will pay a lot of extra money for that flexibility. I have always hated the Eurail passes for that reason. They’re such a trap for people that don’t know that the individual tickets can usually be purchased at much much cheaper rates.
If you are willing to set up your travel in advance, and book tickets for specific trains, you often pay half of what you would pay for the flexible travel passes, or even less. Plus, on very busy/crowded routes/times, you’re guaranteed a seat, where you might have to wait if you have a flexible pass, but the train is already full.
If you don’t want to plan that far in advance, you still typically get pretty good rates if you book the specific ticket the night before, or even the morning that you decide to leave. It’s worth doing your research on the specific routes you might want to travel, and looking at the differences in a Eurail or other flex pass in comparison to individual tickets.
I am usually flabbergasted by how much money you save buying individual tickets, and the cost to be a ‘free-spirited’ traveller without a plan has never seemed worth it to me. But if you’re not worried about cost at all and don’t want to be tied down, it’s fine. You just pay for it. Also, for long distance travel, just check any of the many many budget European Airlines (RyanAir, EasyJet, the list goes on, as other people have described).
While trains are great, flights on cheap airlines can save you a lot of money and time if you’re talking very long distances or crossing international borders. Just be aware that a lot of these airlines will nickel and dime you for extra costs on top of the sticker price you think you’re paying and may require you to get to unusual airports or fly at unusual times for the very cheapest deals.
All of this research does take time, but I find that it gets me excited about the trip anyway, so I like it, plus it can save you so much money.
Most cell phone plans will absolutely rob you if you leave your phone on normally and get roaming charges. My friend spent 3 days somewhere international, and didn’t get any calls, but forgot that her cell phone would periodically auto-sync her email, and came home to $600 worth of roaming charges.
If you want to bring your phone, make sure you keep it on airplane mode (to still use WiFi without accessing cellular data) and look up any specific instructions on how to prevent this from happening on your specific phone model.
If you want to communicate with people at home, there are a lot of apps that will let you text or chat for free over WiFi (things like Kik, WhatsApp, probably others), just make sure you download the app before you leave the country, and remember that it will only send/receive when you have WiFi access.
If you want to make in-country calls when you’re travelling (contacting people you’re meeting up, or confirming hotel reservations or whatever), just buy a new SIM card with some minutes in any country that you’re in. They’re usually very cheap, and minutes are cheap if all you’re doing is local texting/calling.
US phones nowadays often don’t like it if you switch out the SIM-cards, or don’t even let you do it, and switching out the SIM on your own phone makes it so that you can’t contact people in the US on your US number. So this sounds a little ridiculous considering how much I obsessed above about saving money, but I do think it’s a solid investment if you travel internationally often or for long periods to buy a relatively cheap phone for these in-country purposes (but if you’re from the US, buy it abroad in order to get around the SIM lock issues).
Then I just use my cheap phone with country-specific SIM for all in-country needs, and keep my typical phone for pictures and communicating with family and friends at home. Not streamlined, but it fits my priorities.
Hostels and B&Bs
I think I’m finally at the age where I’m willing to shell out a little more money for private rooms (but not a lot more!), but for a long time, I was a big fan of the hostel options in Europe. Many are very clean and convenient for incredible prices – just make sure you read some reviews to make sure that they are safe.
I’ve ended up avoiding a few places after reading on Hostels Worldwide that lots of guests had had things stolen while staying there. Never a good thing. If you do go with the hostel option (or even if you don’t) – I recommend that you always bring: earplugs and possibly an eye mask (roommates might wander in at all hours of the night, and some are more quiet and considerate than others), and small locks for your bags that you leave behind during the day.
Airbnb or couch surfing seem like really good alternatives to hostels that let you get to know locals while still not paying a ton for the housing so you can save money for the fun stuff.
Soda is really expensive, ice is uncommon, and free refills are definitely not a thing. Restaurants charge you for bottled water. Most Europeans will look at you strangely if you ask for tap water at a restaurant, but they’ll bring it to you, and it’s not like the water is bad to drink. In the end though, I usually just go for alcohol. As an American, it’s amazing to me that alcohol is cheaper than or equivalent to non-alcoholic beverages. Might as well take advantage!
I hear a lot of Americans go to Europe and complain about bad service in restaurants, but it’s just a different style. In America, it’s expected for waiters to check in often, but most places I’ve been in Europe that’s seen as annoying. The wait staff tends to come infrequently so as not to bother you while you enjoy your meal.
If you want service, all you have to do is signal them with a look or a quick gesture, and they’ll come over. If you do that and they still don’t come, THEN you can complain about the place had bad service. But if you don’t ask, it’s kind of your own fault.
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If you’re at an airport or train station that has one, get in the official taxi line. Sometimes guys will come up to you near the taxi line to try to get you to go with them, and they’ll typically stiff you like crazy on the prices. Also, be aware that not all places have meters, and the price should be discussed in advance.
Again, if you don’t realize this until you get to your destination, you’ll probably get charged something ridiculous. So check for a meter, and if you don’t see one, make sure you negotiate a price before going, or preferably before you even get in the car.
Bar vs. table price at cafes
This may only apply to Italy, but I know it threw off a lot of my friends. At cafes, they’ll list two prices – the cheaper one is if you stay standing and drink your beverage by the bar. If you sit at one of the tables, you’ll have to pay the more expensive price. Just be aware.
Remember those ear plugs and eye masks? Bring them on your flight. I also always put a few things in my carry on for a mid-flight refresh: a change of underwear and shirt, a small toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, and some cleansing face wipes.
If you spend a few minutes freshening up in the middle or toward the end of the flight, you come out feeling like a brand new, less tired person. Also, drink water basically every single time they offer it to you. Long travel is dehydrating and will make you feel more worn out.
Also, check around the in-flight entertainment system or under the seats for outlets (might just be USB, but might be an entire three prong outlet) – most big planes have them now, so your devices won’t die before you get to your destination. Sometimes only the front half of the plane has them though. Worth checking for it.
Nothing beats a universal adapter. For a long time, I travelled with specific adapters for whatever countries I was going to. Now I just throw the one piece in my bag and I can go anywhere.
An adapter only changes the shape of the plugin Europe the outlets use different voltages than in America. So it used to be necessary to also buy a converter that would change the voltage so you didn’t fry your device or knock out power to the whole hotel. Nowadays, most electronics (phones, cameras, laptops) already come with converters built into the charging cable.
To be 100% certain about this, read the little box on your device’s charging cable. It should indicate somewhere that it functions within some specified voltage – if it goes up to 220 or 240, then you’re fine to plug it in directly to the adapter. Where you might still have issues is with things like electric razors, hair driers, curling irons, etc.
If you want to use those, it’s unlikely that they will work without a converter, so you should buy one of those as well. Otherwise, you could not bring it with you, and buy a cheap one when you get there or buy a ‘travel’ version before you leave that you can switch voltages on internally – look for things that say ‘dual voltage’.
There you have it, travel hacks that will help you on your trip to Europe.