Before I left for my extended trip to Europe I did a lot of research, but even with all the research I did, I had to learn most of these things on the adventure. So as a current traveler I decided to share all the knowledge I’ve acquired here with you.
1. Do your own research on the web
If you’re going to a new country it’s important to understand popular types of transportation (trains and trams), polite salutations, what the weather will be like, what you should pack, the currency exchange and the type accommodations you would like to have: hostels, hotels, Air B n’ B, camping, Couchsurfing and more. I give more information and suggestions on me Types of Accommodations post, be sure to check it out.
Look up all the free activities you can do. London has at least five free museums you can visit which are informative, fascinating and of course free. There are even free walking tours in each of the major cities where you can meet with a group and have a professional walk you through the history of the city. I did one awesome one in Berlin. It was amazing. There are markets all over Europe to find them online. While you’re in London definitely check out the Camden Market, it’s huge with lots of awesome things to look at (or buy) and the Borough Market a treasure trove of yummy foods.
2. Try new foods
Speaking of food, experimentation with food is important. When you travel to a new land there are bound to be different cuisines and traditional foods you’ve never heard of. You never know what you might like. Maybe don’t ask what you’re eating until after you have tried it. Recently I tried Lampredotto (cow stomach) I didn’t like it, but at least I tried something new.
3. Get lost
I know some people have a hard time with letting go of the map. Wanting to know where you are may be a natural habit for you. But I can’t express how important it is that you let go of this fear. I have found the most wonderful places by just following the crowd, or seeing two streets heading in different directions and just following the wind.
4. Talk to strangers (even if they don’t speak English)
You would be amazed at how many people speak some version of English in Europe. Even the back road country sides have some young people who speak a little. And if the spoken language is missing then don’t be afraid to act things out. There are moments where I am combining the ultimate skills of Pictionary and Charades in order to find the hostel I booked.
5. Don’t lose your patients
When you’re traveling, not everything will be peaches and cream. Your gonna get lost, caught in the rain with a dead cell phone. This is the moment to show what you’re made of. Get smart, creative, and humble. Ask for help or directions (men I know this one can be hard but just do it) or find a place to chill until the rain softens. Getting angry could possibly ruin your experience. Don’t look for straight lines, life is never this way.
7. No plan is a better plan
When you go on your adventure having everything planned out you may find that things don’t go the way you expected. This can be stressful for those who like to keep a timely schedule but the unexpected is what makes the adventure. From my personal experience, I first landed in London and planned to stay only three days because of how expensive the UK can be. I met these amazing people and stayed for a full week because I was loving the unexpected adventures I was having.
6. Booking expensive things in advance
I know I just said don’t plan but, flights, train tickets, festivals; these things need to have some planning. Things are cheaper when you buy in advance, so think these things through ahead of time and save money by paying now instead of later.
8. Did I mention talk to strangers?
I know, I know this can be hard. But honestly what is the point of all this if you don’t meet new people? And here is another clue, when you go to hostels or see other travelers in trains, it’s important to realize that they are going through the same thing as you. So say a polite hello and swap stories about your adventures. I have even had complete strangers tell me their most personal secrets because in this big world it can be easy to feel alone, however, when you meet some one who is willing to listen you may discover that we are all going through this crazy thing called life and it’s not easy, but a little kindness goes a long way. And you never know you may just create a new family.
9. Make connections
If you don’t keep in touch with the friends you make then it makes the trip less valuable. Keeping in touch with the people you’ve met may lead to a lot of doors opening to you in the future. Because of the connections, I have made I can come stay in London, Florence, Berlin and several other cities because of the friendships I have maintained in my travels.
10. Download apps
Google maps, Airbnb, Eurorail- Train timetable, Couchsurfing, TripAdvisor, sit or squat – Charmin created a bathroom find application – this is a cute idea but only when you’re outside of the city center. Otherwise it’s pretty easy to find a Starbucks for the bathroom and wifi needs (just buy a tea or coffee). These apps I’ve used the most but there are others that can help you find wifi, help suggests a good restaurant or find other travelers to meet up with.
11. Consider buying a Eurorail pass
If you plan to stay in Europe for at least two months and plan to visit more than three countries. There is the one country pass, the regional pass, the select pass and the global pass. These can be pricey so it’s something you want to buy in advance and evaluate how much train travel you plan on doing. I don’t regret buying my tickets because it made my train travel experience super easy and hassle free. I just jumped on a train and headed to the next city I wanted.
12. Don’t try to out smart the train systems
When you travel, there are times when you are on a train and ticket man never comes around to check your ticket, so you may think, “Well, if there is no one to check the tickets then I can just get on the train without one, right?” Wrong. For the Eurorail, I always had someone looking for the ticket. But when I was in Berlin my friend and I kept buying tickets and no one would be checking them, so after a while, we stopped buying them. Until one day the undercover train police caught us without tickets. We decided to play the dumb tourist card but this didn’t help us much. Fortunately, we didn’t have to pay the fine right there they sent our penalty tickets to our home back in the states, but it was still an unpleasant experience.
13. Women don’t be afraid to travel solo
When the moment came I was definitely nervous splitting ways with my travel companion and flying solo, but it changed my life. Europe is a safe people for anyone to travel, meaning the men have just as much to worry about as women. Safety precautions are always advisable and necessary, but if you don’t do dumb things like going out with strangers and get completely drunk then everything should be gravy. By traveling alone I got make all my own choices about what I want to do and where I want to go without compromising my goals in traveling. Of course sharing this experience with someone else is awesome but you learn a lot about yourself when you’re moving on your own. Check out my article Traveling Alone: Here’s Why You Should.
14. Don’t pack too much
Ladies, I know this is a hard one. I myself feel a need to be prepared for anything and everything. However, we are going to shop. It’s a fact. I was determined to save every penny and not do any shopping. But when you go to the Camden market in London and you see that beautiful brass ring…
I thought about how 20 years from now when I look at this ring I will remember what an amazing time I had in London so bought it to help me remember the moment forever. Even sometimes you find a rainy day and all you’re wearing is a tank top and buying a sweater is the only way to not head all the way back to the hostel. Be thoughtful of how many clothes you buy though because you’ll either have to carry everything or leave some things behind.
15. Document everything
Obviously, you want to take tons of pictures. Definitely download Dropbox on all phones, tablets, and computers. This will back up all photos and videos to the web so if your technology breaks down your stuff is secure. Also, pack a small journal. Some days I would just sit in the park, draw the buildings and people around me and record the moment, then reflect on the day, the moment the feelings, what is see, smell, hear, taste. Living in the moment is a beautiful thing and it’s not something we normally do in our everyday lives.