Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed about going to Paris. I studied French for seven years and my mom always talked about how it was her dream too. Coming from a family with little to no means to travel abroad, I never thought it would become a reality. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ve obviously figured out that I have traveled extensively since becoming an adult! Paris included! It was honestly a dream come true to visit the City of Lights, and it went by way too quickly. Throughout our ten days in Europe, I learned so much about the people, the culture, the lifestyle. So now I’m here to share with you my Europe travel advice. Let me know if you agree or have others I didn’t think of!
* Please keep in mind as you read that these were my personal thoughts and experiences from traveling around a very small piece of Europe. Your impressions and experiences may have been or will be different. My husband and I spent ten days between Paris, Munich, and Prague. We loved every minute of it and now I want to share our thoughts with you.
English is (usually) enough!
First, I found it surprisingly really easy to get around all of the cities we visited with English. Luckily enough, I know enough French to be comfortable in Paris and we have friends living in Prague, so Germany was the only worry. But it was easy! Everyone we met in Germany spoke English and was overly accommodating.
Here’s a tip though, in case you missed my post on the best travel apps to download. Download Google Translate before you go on your vacation. That way you have the wifi/data to do so, and you can download different language to make them available offline. To do this, go to “Settings” and then “Offline Translation”. Hit the plus sign in the top right corner to choose a language to download. While digital translation is never perfect, this will be very useful when wandering around reading signs and ordering off of menus.
One more thing – English-led tours are also very common and easy to find. We did two tours with Radius Tours in Munich and loved them. In other places, like Disneyland Paris, they offered headphones through which you can choose which language to hear the information in. Awesome! English is also commonly seen on signs in the airports and museums. So don’t worry too much. 🙂
Wifi is easy to find
Luckily, most wireless companies now offer international data plans. For example, AT&T offers a plan wherein if you use data on your phone while you’re abroad, you’ll be charged $10, but that is good for 24 hours. Use it as much as you want in those 24 hours! Once that 24 hours is up, you’ll be charged again the next time you use wifi. This is great if you use it often some days, but not at all for others. An important thing to keep in mind though is any background apps that refresh with data (messaging, email, game notifications…). If any of those ping your data, you’ll be charged – even if you didn’t actively do anything using data.
The better plan is to just keep your phone in flight mode. My husband and I set up the option for international data before we left for our trip. But, we found that we never needed to use it. There was wifi available in every airport and hotel we visited. Most restaurants had wifi. There are even public spaces that offer free public wifi just because they are swarming with tourists. And you know they are all clamoring to get that photo on Facebook or Instagram to share with their friends and family back home. (Hey, I’m included!) But I have to say how pleased I was with this – one of the most noticeable spots for this Marienplatz in Munich.
Also, see if your cell phone provider offers global wifi. We were able to download AT&T’s Global Wifi app to connect to several public wifi connections along our travels.
Use public transportation
If you’re in a major city, public transportation will be by far your cheapest and easiest option. The metros in Paris and Munich were both fairly easy to navigate, and super cheap! DON’T let yourself get ripped off by the taxi companies at the airport! Unfortunately, we did. And I knew at the time I should have stopped us, but I was tired and not thinking clearly – don’t make the same mistake! There will be taxi drivers in the airport asking you where you need to go, and some may even show you a list of set prices for different regions. They will overcharge you. Be careful! Instead, ask for help on navigating public transport (surprisingly cheap in Paris from the airport to city center). If you’re desperate to get to your destination faster and more efficiently, use Uber. Just be careful with taxi scams. Don’t get swindled.
Oh – another important thing about public transportation – It’s clean! I love NYC just as much as the next person, but when we took the subway on the way home at the end of our trip I was appalled at the conditions. It’s just disappointing. European metro stops are so much older, yet in much better condition.
Know your exchange rate
Being informed ahead of time will save you a lot of headaches. And will also have you prepared to reassure your father-in-law that you did NOT pay $400 USD for a souvenir when you get home. My favorite website/app to use for currency exchange rates is XE.com. But I also just like to keep a rough estimate in my head for quick conversions. Also – beware of money exchange booths that may try to rip you off. Some of them advertise ‘no exchange fee’ but then give you a lower rate. Honestly, a credit card will be accepted most places you go and often gives the best exchange rates.
To tip or not to tip?
It’s not always easy to know if you should tip in restaurants and bars. While it may not always be customary where you go, if you’re American, waitstaff will expect a tip from you. Some places avoid this problem by already including the tip in your bill. So check your receipt! At first we had sticker shock at a café in Paris, but then noticed on the menu that tax and tip were included. If you’re not sure, just ask!
Europe hasn’t fully embraced the craft beer movement like the US has, but there are sparks of it here and there. (Don’t worry – we managed to find at least one brewery in each city!) They are much more prone to the traditional styles of beer, particularly in Germany (more about that later). They also serve their beer with a lot of foam. If there isn’t enough foam, they don’t think the beer is fresh enough.
But – beer and wine are relatively cheap! And public drinking is generally accepted. Again, particularly in Germany. They have no problem with you cracking a beer open at the train station or even on the train. They embrace it!
Water comes at a cost
You may have heard people say that you can get a glass of wine cheaper than a glass of water in Europe. Sadly, this can be somewhat true. Complimentary tap water should not be taken for granted. Some restaurants happily and regularly offer water – often in filled jugs with empty glasses so you can refill your own. But others charge – so be careful! If you ask a waiter for water, they will ask sparkling or still – don’t get caught by this. Feel free to ask if they have tap, but keep in mind you may still have to pay. But tap water will be cheaper than the 8 euro we got stuck paying for Evian in Paris. Oops!
Passport Control… or not
Because of the relationship of the countries within the European Union, it is extremely easy to travel between them. When we arrived in the Munich airport, we saw the booths for passport control… Then I just stopped and stared. There was no one in either of the booths – not the one for EU passports or for non-EU. I took a minute just wondering what we were supposed to do before a man walked by and said “there is no passport control.” Huh. maybe they should get rid of the signs? Oh well. We walked through. Sad to say I don’t have a passport stamp for Germany.
Another thing we found odd? You basically have a choice of whether or not to go through customs. In both Charles de Gaulle and Munich airports they had signs pointing to customs if you have items to declare as well as signs pointing to nothing to declare. Again – huh. What if you have things to declare but just decide not to? How does that work? Honesty!
Where are the washcloths?
Every hotel room we stayed in lacked washcloths. I don’t know why, but I guess I’ve always taken them for granted. What the heck! I was so excited when we got home to my loofah. And I also bought a travel loofah for future trips. Another thing missing? Toilet tanks! You just don’t see them in Europe. I can only assume that they are in the wall – or that their plumbing is very different from the states. Regardless, every toilet I used had buttons on the wall behind it – smaller for number one!
Less Europe travel advice, more random reflections
Europe loves spiral staircases. Seriously. I got dizzy a time or two. (Ahem, catacombs…)
You can find American ex-pat places everywhere; particularly bars and restaurants.
Everything is so old and gosh darn beautiful. Angels carved into the sides of ordinary buildings make them amazing to the modern eye. Doorways are gorgeous.
For some broad generalizations, Paris loves coffee, Munich loves beer, and Prague loves dogs. Really. Dogs are allowed nearly everywhere. Including the zoo!
Maybe it’s just my luck, but be prepared for at least one tourist attraction to be under construction. The Seine was flooding. Parts of the Louvre were being renovated (and I’m still pretty upset that I missed Delacroix’s “Lady Leading the People”). In Prague, the astronomical clock was covered in tarps. Yes, the astronomical clock that everybody raves about. That one. I couldn’t see it. Let’s move on before I start crying…
Have you been to Europe? What did you think? Do you have any Europe travel advice to add? Any things that you found new/strange/unexpected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!