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What would be something(s) you wish you knew before your first trip to Europe?

What would be something you wish you knew when you took your first Europe trip? Something you wish somebody would have told you that could've made your trip even better and more effective.

Posted by
51 posts

How to use the shower, ask your hotelier before they leave the room.

Posted by
9350 posts

I agree, virtually every shower I have encountered in Europe has operated differently. That might be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. In some places, like Ireland, you might encounter a hot water device that has to be turned on before starting the shower, for one thing. I just want to know what I need to pull, twist, or turn to get it to work.

Posted by
764 posts

I am chuckling to myself about the shower thing. I have run into a few quirky showers and several that I couldn't avoid getting water all over the bathroom.

Don't be afraid to talk to people and make new friends.

Expect everything not to happen perfectly and look at those days as an adventure. Be flexible in your schedule.

If possible, get maps of the cities before you go, study them , and take those maps with you! I think with GPS, reading maps is becoming a lost art. I love a good map. I remember reading maps was part of my curriculum in school. Hopefully, they still teach that!

Posted by
6943 posts

Showers might be different, but so far I've never had any trouble figuring out how to use them.

I wish I had know just how fast the time would fly by. Trying to see 'everything' is impossible. I've learned to spend more time, particularly in cities, to really see them. A day or two in a large city like London or Paris only allows for time to check things off a list or to say you've been there. In that amount of time you don't really see them.

Edit - Kristin was posting as I was writing my response. I agree that I've had more than one wet bathroom floor after a shower!

Her point about flexibility is a good one. Things don't always go as planned. Remember that mistakes and mishaps often make for the best stories later, even though it might be hard to find the humor in it at the time.

Posted by
51 posts

There is very little continuity in Europe when it comes to design in operating the shower, toilet, sink, etc. If you stay at 10 different places you may have 10 different ways to turn on the hot water and control the pressure of the shower, cord, switch, dial, knob, etc. You may have a foot pump, handle, button, etc. for the sink and the toilet may have a handle, pull chain, small button, dual buttons, etc. Once you get the basic idea down you can usually figure it out, but sometimes, it's just best to ask beforehand.

Posted by
11613 posts

My problem is with the tv. I like to use it to help learn phrases in countries where I don't know the language, and to keep up with the news in countries where I do speak the language.

Yes, time flies. I wish I could speed up my other life and slow down my traveling life. Live to travel.

Posted by
64 posts

See? I would never have thought about operating the shower.

I'm glad I asked! Anything else?

Thanks for the tips by the way :)

Posted by
2081 posts

2k,

before i took my trip, i readup using the various travel books.

That helped a lot and i didnt have any "surprise" moments. I do PLAN my trips so that about the only "surprise" moments i have are like plane delays. So far i havent had any hotels say "sorry - we dont have your reservation" since i ALWAYS re-confirm my stay 1 month or so before i go.

About the only thing that has happened as a "surprise" moment was when most of my clothes (except what i was wearing) was giving to some other customer on my last trip. Not much you can do about that other than to improvise and make due.

i guess what it comes down to is to "Don't Panic" and being able to "think on your feet".

happy trails.

Posted by
4430 posts

I wish I knew the language of the country I am visiting. But that's not what somebody just can tell me. We Americans have a huge advantage that English is spoken almost everywhere but still your experience is so much richer if you speak the language of the country.

Posted by
3915 posts

Guss,

1.] I wish I'd known how much time it actually takes when one travels
from one destination to the next.

Example: you check train schedules & you figure, okay, it will take 2 hours to get from point A to point B that's not too bad...

but in reality it takes so much more time when you figure everything that this move entails;

  • check-out of hotel,

  • walk to train station

  • wait for train,

  • travel time

  • figure out which way to exit train station, airport etc...

  • walk/take bus, tram or taxi to hotel in new destination

  • check-in

  • unpack

  • get situated to new location, etc, etc...

So by the time one actually arrives to new destination, @ least half the day is over! And every time we travel to new location we have to do it all over again!

2.] I'd also wished I'd known how exhausted I'd feel when I arrived in Europe after spending 10-15 hours traveling without any sleep!

3.] I wish I'd known that I didn't need to pack so many clothes in a medium to large suitcase.

I have learned to travel light and it's so much easier to travel with a small carry-on sized suitcase.
I know that I can always do laundry while traveling.

4.] I agree with the others in terms of how fast time flies when on vacation! When you arrive, you think to yourself, we have 14 days here, isn't it great?! Then you turn around & you are packing all your souvenirs & getting ready to go to the airport the following day!

5.] If you see something you love & think about buying it, buy it!

You may not find it somewhere else, or you will go back to where you think you saw it & invariably, you will not find that cute little shop, remember...

Enjoy your trip and take time to experience what the Italians say; "il dolce far niente"-- the sweetness of doing nothing!

Another thing: eat lots of genuine Italian gelato while in Italy, tapas & paella while in Spain, waffles & 'Belgium frites' (not french fries!) in Belgium, fresh baklavas in Greece and I can't think of anything else right now.

Just enjoy every moment of your trip!

Posted by
2561 posts

Re Priscilla's # 5: I think that after more than 30 years of foreign travel, I've finally "got" that one. I still regret the unbought ceramics in Kyoto (never saw that style again) and the Mephisto sandals in Freiburg (couldn't find the shop after a lunch break).

However, the shower comments really made me chuckle. We had similar experiences with toilets. Who knew there were so many ways to make a toilet flush? This one continues to amaze and tax the old brain.

Posted by
64 posts

This is REALLY helpful guys! Thanks for taking the time Priscilla (and everyone). I need to show this to my wife (for packing purposes especially haha)

Posted by
331 posts

That we should have brought our own washcloths (although this was many years ago). I think even now they are not generally supplied by hotels.

Posted by
1811 posts

Showers for me too. In Ukraine we ran into the first computerized showers we had ever seen. I almost had to get a hotel staff person in the shower with me in order to operate it. My wife usually figures out the showers because I let her go first.

Posted by
9350 posts

My biggest shower problem was in a hotel in Cordoba. It turned out later that I had been doing the right thing, but it was stuck. I had had to resort to sort of kneeling in the bathtub to be able to wash my hair, since the sink was far too tiny and shallow.

Posted by
10698 posts

Good comments.

Re showers:

I've never had a shower I couldn't figure out but when I traveled with my mom, she had trouble with almost all of them and asked me for help. I'd say don't panic when the shower operates differently. Ultimately it's the same thing, a mix of hot and cold water and a shower nozzle (often hand held nozzle and often no shower curtain). It's not impossible to figure out.

In Italy, hot is caldo - so I think a lot of people get confused thinking the C is for cold.

Posted by
10698 posts

Re: Travel Time

Yes, it takes time to travel. A travel day includes all the things described above. Any thing more than four hours of travel (regardless of the mode) will make for a really long day - not impossible but draining.

Also account for travel time when you're deciding what you have time to see or how long to stay in a given destination. One full day there requires two nights, two days needs three nights, etc.

Posted by
10698 posts

The one I'd add is you don't need to pack for a trip to the moon (or deserted island). There are tens of millions of people in Europe who get along fine with the stores they have there (department stores, drug stores, grocery stores). If you don't pack something and decide you really need it, it's available nearby.

Posted by
206 posts

When you go into a restaurant is the US, notice how loud it is and how loud everyone talks. You will see a big difference in Europe and you will be looked at if you or anyone with you is too loud. Sure makes it more enjoyable to be able to sit and talk and not have to shout to be heard.

Posted by
3260 posts

Oh yes...don't underestimate how long It takes to move between places. Even on our 3rd trip, I thought 2 nights in Florence would be ok...you know, we'll get there early afternoon from venice and find where we are staying and have the evening and all the next day and the following morning...except we lingered a few extra hours in venice, got lost trying to find the bus stop when we got to Florence (don't ask) and wasted another 45 min. By the time we got to our b&b, it was after supper and too late to head back into the historic Center...I am finally...after 4 trips to Europe...getting that and I wish people would realize that it can eat up a half day. Or more.

And I guess I should have known...how addicting it would be! Before we took our first trip over in 2008, we thought if we went every five years that would be enough. Nope. Before we got back from the first trip, we said we'd try to go back in 3 years. I think a week after we got home, I was brainstorming for a 2010 trip. And we've managed to go over every two years. I guess the thing is, try not to cram everything in...where there is a will, there is a way to return (unless you're deathly ill). Our 2010 trip we went mental and had like 10 or 11 moves in 22 days...yup...hubby forgot we ever went to Munich! Slow down, don't rush from one town to another, spend an extra night...

On the shower front, the only really odd one was an apt we stayed at this year and it was basically a combo shower and bathroom....like...no shower curtain...everything got kinda wet...hard to dry your feet when the floor is wet all over! Interesting...

Posted by
3260 posts

Oh...and don't order soda in Italy at restaurants! Hubby and I aren't alcohol drinkers, and I tend to have iced tea and hubby has soda when we eat out at home...our first trip to Italy, we were 3-4 days in before we really paid attention to how much the soda cost once we converted from euro to dollars...needless to say, we shared bottles of water after that!

Posted by
5162 posts

I wish I had known that I could do it by myself. Yes, I had read RS ETBD but still didn't know anybody who had traveled to Europe independently who could encourage me to try it too. Because of that, my first two trips to Europe were on big group tours and, while I enjoyed them very much, I discovered very quickly that they didn't fit my travel style. Knowing what I know now, I would have been able to create my 'ideal' itinerary rather than settle for what the tour company had to offer. At the time, I thought I couldn't afford to travel there on my own, thought it would be more expensive than the tour. I know better now.

Edit: I know if I had had this forum back when, I would have taken the advice and encouragement of the 'experts' here and done it on my own. And I would have done it a lot sooner than I did. The only downside of that is that, without going on the tours, I never would have met two good friends (and future traveling companions) that I still keep in touch with after almost 18 years.

Posted by
64 posts

That is encouraging Nancy :)

I am doing the planning for our first trip. Some people have called me crazy. They tell me I should go on a tour the first time and then plan my own. I like the adventure and adrenaline.

Wish us luck! :D

Posted by
1850 posts

It would've been nice to know ahead of time, but was learned shortly upon arrival - don't touch the fruit at a market . . . the seller will pick the (usually) best pieces for you.

Know how to ask for (free) tap water wherever you go ... unless you want expensive bottled water, which comes with or without gas (effervescence). The wording depends on the country, and sometimes on the region within that country.

Haggis, Yes! Blood pudding/blood sausage, not so much.

Lots of places now ban smoking inside, but in general, smoking still is much more prevalent than in the USA.

When driving, navigate by road signs and town names, rather than by road numbers. When going by train, Metro/subway/Tube, or bus, anticipate your stop, and be ready to disembark.

Never pass up a chance to pee, but you may need some coins to get in.

Know that cider can pack more of a punch than beer, and some beers are much stronger than others. Grappa, slivovitz and other firewater should be approached very carefully!

Enjoy serendipitous music wherever and whenever it occurs. Take in a performance, if possible.

Posted by
3915 posts

Guss,

I am doing the planning for our first trip. Some people have called me crazy. They tell me I should go on a tour the first time and then plan my own. I like the adventure and adrenaline.

It's really not difficult to plan your own trip:

  • You can get ideas to where you'd like to go by looking at tour itineraries for the specific country (countries) you want to visit.
  • read all types of guidebooks - which usually give you ideas on itineraries depending on how long you plan to travel, etc.
  • Guidebooks also recommend accommodations depending on your budget.
  • You can book accommodations online now-- easy as pie.
  • you can get very practical info from travel forums like this one. (I wished I'd known these travel forums existed when I planned my previous trips!)

**I've seen tour groups on my travels to Europe & Greece, and they always seemed to be rushing, rushing, rushing!

Don't listen to the nay sayers!

Where are you planning to travel?

Posted by
1470 posts

I wish I had known/realized just how fun, rewarding and actually easy it is to travel out of the US. I would have gone a lot sooner.....

Posted by
64 posts

The hard part is to gather the money haha (for most at least).

Priscilla, I am going to go to:

  • Paris (4)
  • Versailles
  • Venice (3)
  • Cinque Terre (3)
  • Florence (3)
  • Rome (3)
  • Vatican

May 8th to 25th :D

Posted by
3915 posts

Sounds great!

  • Having said that, think of your trip in terms of nights not days. So I counted 17 nights, right?
  • So if you plan to stay 4 nights in Paris, that only gives you 3 full days to actually "see" Paris.
  • Venice, Florence & Rome each 3 nights= 2 full days & so on.
  • How will you be getting to Venice from Paris? Best option would be to fly there.
  • Best option in terms of flights is to get open-jaw (multi-city) tickets so you will fly into Paris & out of Rome & that way you won't waste time backtracking.
  • I would recommend switching Florence & CT. So you itinerary would like this: Paris (4N) > fly to Venice(3 N) > train to Florence (3N) > train to Cinque Terre (3N) > train to Rome(3-4N)

Many here will tell you that 2 days in Florence or Rome is not enough time & perhaps you may want to skip Venice or CT or even Paris!
You have 5 locations in 17 nights-- it's definitely doable but a bit rushed in my opinion.---but it's YOUR trip, so you will have the final say!
Keep in mind that each time you change locations you will lose part of that day.

*I'd suggest you post a *new topic with your itinerary and you will see what I mean. You will get many helpful ideas, opinions/suggestions.

Once you decide on your itinerary, start booking your accommodations :-)

Posted by
3915 posts

Guss,

Your trip is from May 8- 25, 2015?

Will you be traveling on May 8th or will you be on the ground (Paris) ?

Remember that you will lose the first day, assuming you are flying from the U.S.

So if you are leaving the US on May 8th, you will arrive May 9th.

Posted by
9565 posts

That it's so different from here, in so many ways. Which is one of the reasons we keep going back.

Posted by
1811 posts

I have something to say to the first timers. You can do it! If you want to. My wife and I have been on all our journeys by ourselves, six times to Scotland, once to India, and to Luzon, Phillipines. We have had three six week journeys, one in Germany and Benelux, one we flew to Istanbul and trained across Europe to Amsterdam, and the last one entirely in Ukraine. We will be going back to Ukraine this April for a month. You have to be adaptable, use squat toilets, eat unfamiliar food, and communicate in a language you don't know. This isn't for everyone, but if you are an adventurous traveler you can do it. I did go on a tour once, to Tibet, but that was the only way I would have gotten there.

It helps a lot if you use a convertible carry-on so you are more manuverable, and can be self sustaining for twenty-four hours. You don't have to be a young pup either, we will be seventy-five and sixty-eight on our Ukraine trip.

Posted by
77 posts

I first went to Europe in 1965......6 months of hitchhiking & 3 class trains etc. No showers, TV or phones to worry about and only 1 guide book available.... Europe on Five Dollars a Day which weighed a lot! What I wish I had known then.... Pack Light!!!... because in those days the backpacks were awkward & weighed a ton. Its the best advise and I have become a pro at that since I have been returning to Europe every 2 years for the past 15 years. Priscilla's advice #5 is great... I have several regrets...but I am learning! In 1965 we never once worried about not being able to speak the language of any of the countries we visited in those 6 months ( we did know the basics, like please & thank you ) and we made out just fine in spite of very few people speaking English then... at least not at the type of places we stayed at....youth hostels, "foot prints in the snow toilets", straw mattresses. So much easier now.. so don't worry about, you will get on just fine! Best advice I've learned ... use ATMs and Pack Light

Posted by
9565 posts

(Re the above post):
Ahhhh, squat toilets. Brings back old memories. It's then that you know you're really in a foreign country.

Posted by
1369 posts

Take twice as much money and half the clothes/stuff you think you need. Spend time people watching (and visiting if language permits) and marvel that people are people are people everywhere you go. Don't get hung up on "they do it different" but embrace and revel in the unique ways people approach life in other countries (this isn't so much advice for me, but for some of my past travel companions who were very peeved they didn't get treated like they would "at home"). Do not skimp on opportunities to see museums, sights, or other cultural artifacts - you're supporting their preservation with your admission fee, and you may not have the chance to see them again. Definitely take advantage of every bathroom opportunity - my motto is "go when you can, not when you have to" (and take several pocket sized packs of Kleenex because said opportunities are not always well stocked). Eat gelato/pastry/frites/booze/local delicacies EVERY DAY (you can work it off when you get home). Take clothes with a little give in them (to accommodate the gelato/pastry/booze). Test drive your clothing and break in your shoes before you go - wardrobe malfunctions and blisters are a real drag. Most of all - GO! As others have said, I wished I had started traveling much sooner, but I'm working hard to make up for lost time.

Posted by
3915 posts

Guss,

I agree with Pam's advise:

Best advice I've learned ... use ATMs and Pack Light

You will get the best exchange rate in Europe.

You can take a some Euros just so don't arrive empty handed.

Make sure you take 2 debit cards & 2 credit cards --just in case.

I always try to use ATM's that are attached to banks & during business hours, just in case something goes wrong.

Once when I was in Greece, the ATM ate my card! Luckily, the bank was open & I was able to get my card back.

Edit: don't forget to notify your bank(s) regarding your travel plans (dates).

Posted by
1079 posts

If renting a manual transmission car, be sure to learn the gear shift sequence, especially where reverse is.

Posted by
9565 posts

Augmenting the post immediately above:
And know how to drive a manual shift car.
If you don't, make absolutely sure you get an automatic. Don't just check the box on the online form, like you would in the US--that is not likely to get you an automatic. Call and make sure.

Posted by
830 posts

oh, cyn is SO right in so many ways, esp. coins in your pocket increasing your options to pee, and to avoid blood sausage at ALL costs..........
my very first trip to Europe was one year after college. a friend was completing a rotary year abroad, so we hitch hiked thru Ireland, and saw Paris and London courtesy of trains and ferries. i know I paid for that plane ticket with cash, and did the trip with travelers checks. for that 10 day trip I made do with one pair of slacks, one long pair of shorts, and one skirt.....in a day pack. I learned I did NOT need to do that anymore.

here's my first mistake from that trip, so circa 1983.......I did not understand the whole "going through customs" thing. got off my plane in London, and waited, and waited, and waited for my friend.....who was of course, waiting on the other side of customs. I think it took about a panicky hour to get it sorted out. coming home was about the reverse experience, since she was going to be moving back to the US about 30 days after I left, she sent me home with 2 checked bags and assorted carry ons. I got flagged because of my Granny Clampit traveling style (literally was wearing her coat with boxes of champagne flutes in the pockets.) and having checked those bags that just so happened to have somebody else's name on the tag) so I was detained by customs for awhile and ultimately had to leave all of her crap in the basement of the St Louis airport for her to collect 30 days later.

THATS what I wish I knew about international travel the first time.

(I now travel with a smallish sized roller bag with MY NAME on the luggage tags....I call it traveling like a grown up woman with a credit card)

Posted by
749 posts

You have gotten so much good advice. My big one I wish someone had told me was to pack light! That was long before I knew about Rick Steves. I lugged around a huge, heavy suitcase for three weeks. Even on my 2nd trip I didn't understand this concept and thought I was packing light by bringing a medium sized suitcase. I have been so much happier since I started taking only a small carryon. I wish someone would not have told me that in Europe I couldn't wear shorts or jeans and I would mostly want to wear dresses to blend in. That was not true even on my first trip in the 90s, especially the part about the dresses. Oh, the showers! I'm glad I'm not the only one who has had trouble figuring out some showers.

Posted by
64 posts

Oh man, this place keeps getting better and better! (this is what I did all day at work today haha! (this is seldom) )

I feel like a sponge here, absorbing and absorbing.

"The 2 basic principles: Use ATM & pack light". I like it!

Priscilla:

  • I am going 17 days and 16 nights. Leaving May 8th, landing on the 9th at noonish and coming back on the 25th landing on the 26th.

  • Believe it or not as most beginners, I had a ton of stuff more in my itinerary, I've been shrinking it thanks to some great advice I've been getting here. I even had Switzerland in it for 3 nights!! I got rid of that.

  • I was thinking taking one night from Paris and give it to Rome but still debating. I will spend all weekend doing some research and using all the great advice I am getting here to complete our itinerary.

  • We are flying Multi-City Paris/Rome. And we are getting from Paris to Venice by plane through EasyJet (not booked yet).

  • Second time I hear switching Florence with CT. I'm definitely doing that. Thanks!!!!

Here's my flight:

7:55 PMMinneapolis, St Paul International Airport (MSP), United States of America - Terminal 1
Check in limit :
11:25 AMParis, Charles de Gaulle (CDG), FRANCE

Back:

6:55 AMRome, Fiumicino (FCO), ITALY - Terminal 1
Check in limit : 6:15 AM
9:05 AMParis, Charles de Gaulle (CDG), FRANCE

10:35 AMParis, Charles de Gaulle (CDG), FRANCE - Terminal 2E
Check in limit : 9:35 AM
12:57 PMMinneapolis, St Paul International Airport (MSP), United States of America

I will post my itinerary when it's done so if it's not too much to ask, you guys can "approve it".

I will drop a ton of coins at the "Fontana di Trevi" to ensure we come back!! :)

Posted by
1642 posts

I wish I had been prepared for all the graffiti! Sadly, it is all over (depending on where you go) It was shocking to me in Rome and I felt like I was in a "bad" neighborhood until I realized it was everywhere. Now, it doesn't bother me, but I wish I had been warned.

And...packing light, don't move too fast 4 nights minimum in cities, 3 for most else unless it is a very small village.

Posted by
6943 posts

To repeat bathroom advice -
Never pass up a bathroom.
Carry coins. Some (many) places charge to use the bathroom.
Squat toilets aren't everywhere, but you may find them. I've never seen one in Paris (I've spent 4 weeks there), but Italy is another story. I saw them at small train stations (CT) and in some Tuscan hill towns.

Coins. You will get a lot of them. The smallest paper money is a €5 bill. My first trip I ended up using a small ziplock baggie for coins. Since then I bring a coin purse.

Different sizes of ziplock bags can come in handy for a variety of things.

Posted by
64 posts

Alright. So, the most trending "wish I was told before my first trip" things are:

  1. Never miss a change to pee/poo. (bring coins with all the time)
  2. Use ATM's
  3. Pack light

Cool!

Posted by
10583 posts

The first trip to Europe for me was in 1971 on a charter flight. It was a budget trip with travellers checks, a Eurail Youth Pass, staying exclusively in hostels (twice in a Pension), taking night trains, with a more or less planned itinerary. Basically, I got used to everything relatively easy in terms of adjusting (staying night after night in hostel dorm rooms, reading the menu, getting used to a pocket of small change in various coinage of different countries, taking the train, the train stations, taking the subway, etc ) and getting around, some of which I had been informed of from college backpackers I met prior to going over.

There were showers at those certain hostels that in order to get hot water you had to pay extra for it, ie, the machine installed there. Sometimes I did, sometimes I refused and took the cold water instead. Not all hostels had that extra feature. Where I stayed, most did not.

What i wished I had known prior to arriving on the continent in 1971 after visiting London was the continental summer heat. Coming from SF the heat there was a surprise. I had already been told back in SF not to expect AC, don't expect it in hostels or on the train. It caught me off guard, sometimes oppressive heat such as that one could encounter in Vienna in late August. The summer of '71 saw all of Europe engulfed in a heat wave. Still, one had to cope, put up with it. Two years later in the Summer of 1973 I was fortunate enough to be back, this time the first trip to Paris and France.

Posted by
2081 posts

2k,

Not something i didnt know, but am noticing every place i go to.

Public toilets are not free, but pay. You need to ALWAYS have some change on hand.

happy trails.

Posted by
10935 posts

Well I can't think what to add.. so many good posts ( Prisscillas first post was especially spot on) .. and good advise. My first trip was as a child.. so not much help and subsequent trips as youth were all to visit family. ... so my first trip as an adult , ( barely., lol ) was with a friend was in 1985 .. three months.. cheap and cheerful .. ( ok,, sometimes some cheap places were not so cheerful..but they make good stories now.. ) . No cell phones or tech stuff .. no real itinerary.. flew into Paris beginning of August and out of Paris end of October.. circled from Paris , south to Italy , up through Switzerland, Austria, Germany, into Holland, then back to Paris.. mostly by train( some buses ) and then flew from Paris to Greece for a few weeks( perfect timing as the islands are great in October.. crowds not so bad.. ) ..

Things you have to figure out no matter what :

Money
Bathrooms- showers are not the only issue.. finding the toilet flush handle can be interesting.. lol
Train schedules
Polite phrases in language of any country you visit

Packing light is a must, you will walk more. lift your bag more.. and do more steps then you ever imagine.

Its a good idea to go into a grocers or market , grab some food, and eat it anywhere outside , bench, park, hotel room.. cheap dinners like that leave more money for fun stuff .. ( of course treat yourself to at least one or two overpriced coffees/drinks in cafes with amazing views) .

Stop often , look around.. and just take a mental picture of the moment.. I have a few I still treasure. .

Be careful with letting people approach you in metro/train stations, offering to help with tickets/ ticket machines.. go get in the long line at the help desks instead.

Posted by
7037 posts

One thing that surprises many people when they get to Germany is that all of the stores are closed on Sundays and that most of the museums are closed on Mondays. For many people, if they would have known this would have planned their days and travels differently.

For those sitting in a restaurant waiting patiently for the bill, it may never come. You have to ask for it.

Tap water is not given automatically and in Germany, good luck getting it at all though if you insist, sometimes they give in.

On escalators, stand on the right so that people who are in a hurry can pass on the left. This is really important at train stations, airports, and subways.

In churches, do not drink from your water bottle. Turn the tone off on your camera as well as the flash. If there is a sign that says don't take photos, don't take photos.

Taxes are always included in the price of an item. Nothing extra is added on at the register.

In some cities and countries you have to validate your train or bus ticket before riding, in other cities you don't. Make sure you know the rules before using public transportation.

Doors on trains and buses may not open automatically. Watch what others are doing so you aren't surprised.

A Service Charge is not a tip, this is a % that goes to the owner. VAT is not a tip, this is a tax.
You don't leave tips on the table, give them directly to your server. 5-10% is plenty, and if your service was shoddy, don't leave a tip.

Do not put your feet on the seat opposite you on the bus or train. I see Americans do this a lot. It is rude and nasty.

Grocery stores do not pack your groceries for you, you have to do this yourself. You also have to buy a bag. Recommend buying a cloth bag and then you will always have one with you.

Posted by
3260 posts

I think I learned the 'pee' thing from my mom - and I take advantage of any washrooms in museums or restaurants! Doesn't matter if I just went an hour ago.

Oh...and those dang squat toilets - in Monterosso in Cinque Terre of all places is where I first came across one...at the train stn - avoid at all costs if you are a woman wearing pants (I won't go into it). Men - you're lucky.

Luckily I learned about packing light way before we first went anywhere in a plane. I watched Rick Steves for years before we were able to travel and that stuck with me. And his videos helped me so much with doing it myself. Our first trip out of North America and we go to Rome! It was chaotic and awesome and an eye-opener. But I love planning and researching almost as much as I love the travelling part. I have toyed with the thought of tours, but I don't want to be beholden to someone else's schedule...and I know I can do it for cheaper (I'm a budget traveler). With more hassle yeah, but it's MY WAY!

And I still rem when I told people we were going to Europe for our 1st trip which was 19 nights and we were only taking carry on/personal item...people thought we were nuts and didn't know how we could do it...one woman I talked with - she goes to the Dominican every year and takes two large suitcases for a week! You begin to appreciate really fast travelling light - especially when getting on and off trains, planes, metros, busses...we actually had our first taste of not travelling light last year when my mom joined us for our Italy leg. She had one 26 or 28" and one 21". In her defense, she was visiting my sister in England 3 weeks before we came over, so she took more stuff. But it sucked. Hindsight - we should have left the large bag in Portsmouth and when we flew back into London the day before our flight home, we could have had a nephew or niece come to London with it. By the time we paid the extra money to leave it in left luggage places (4 in total) we probably spent another $50-60 lugging that one darn bag.

Posted by
2577 posts

Footprints in the snow toilets! What a wonderful term! For those who don't know... Picture a ceramic or concrete pad on the floor of the bathroom, with two footshaped indentations, and a hole between and slightly behind them. Plant your feet in the indentations.... I first encountered these in the Ukraine in 1968. I'm assuming a sqat toilet is an actual bowl but low and with no seat? I've met those, too, including in the US.

I like the advice to "take twice as much money and half as much luggage." Nowadays with ATMs carrying cash or traveler's checks isn't as much of an issue, but the luggage is. My first trip to Europe I had one huge suitcase, one smaller one, and a large purse. (And almost no money.) Now I carry a medium sized backpack and a smaller shoulder bag. Plenty for three or four weeks.

Have a wonderful trip, Guss.

Posted by
11613 posts

Palazzo Vecchio had a squat toilet (and other styles) the last time I was there, several years ago. And no, squat does not mean there's a bowl.

Posted by
2561 posts

I'm going to disagree with Brad's statement above, regarding the availability of products in Europe. The corollary being you can buy it if you need it. We Americans are accustomed to supermarkets that are open 24/7, and that carry otc medications, tools, batteries, clothing, etc., etc. Not so true in Europe, especially re otc meds. You have to go to a pharmacy for them. Opening hours are likely to be much more curtailed than here. Yes, there is always one pharmacy in the area that is open; but you may have to travel to the other side of a city or to the next town to find it. You may also be shocked at the price you'll need to pay.
Contrary to what RS and his loyal followers advise, I say pack plenty of any meds you take regularly or know you're likely to need, like antihistamines and aspirin or ibuprofen.
And on the subject of store hours . . While there has been some relaxation of the regulations limiting these, North Americans should not make any assumptions. The midday closing period is still common in some countries, notably small town Italy. The compensation is that they may stay open until 8 in the evening. Many enterprises (most?) will be closed on Sundays, except in places that are heavily oriented toward tourism.

Posted by
1204 posts

That Italian hotel may list AC as an amenity, but it's usually centrally controlled and the law used to be they didn't turn it on until May. They may list an elevator, but it may be the size of a small closet- another reason to travel light.

I wish RS would do a video on how to take a shower with no shower curtain so that we don't flood the place. We're getting better, but I still feel we're missing something since millions of locals do this every day.

Posted by
10935 posts

In France ( may be like that other places but not sure) if you buy produce in a grocery store many expect you to weigh and label it yourself before you get to the till... not doing so will likely get you the rolled eye.. and the annoyance of those in line behind you at the till. Look around the produce section. you will see the scales.. and they spit out the label for you.

Bathrooms with an attendant are not free.. the plate out is not for tips , but for the fee.. its not optional. It varies from place to place.. .50 to one euro seems to be the norm...
Ladies.. if there is a long line ( and there can be in some places) feel free to use the mens washroom.. no one cares.. and they never seem to have a line!
People will budge in front of you if you let them.. don't . ( unless of course they have a child with them,, then have a heart)

Posted by
10935 posts

Oh yes.. I bring my own drugs.. not because they don't have them.. but because you will usually need them like at 4 am on a sunday.

Although many pharmacies are closed in Paris on sundays.. the law provides that in each arrondissement that one pharmacy remains open.. you can ask local or desk clerk which one it is and where it is.
Pharmacists in Europe are generally awesome.. they are able to help with suggestions.. they interact far more with customers then they do here in North America. Also if you need a doctor they can usually suggest one you can visit or nearest walk in clinic.

Posted by
8763 posts

These are great!

Yes, definitely GO whenever a biffy is at hand! GO when you get to the museum/restaurant/whatever, and GO again before you leave! And have coins, tissues and wetwipes in your bag!

That some of my camping skills would be useful when faced with squat toilets.

That foreign mosquitoes have a different effect on me than local mozzies. (!!!!!!!!!)

That tight itineraries are exercise in futility - although the paper they're printed on can come in handy (see point #1)

That sometimes lights are operated by the hotel room's key card

Posted by
7037 posts

Yes, Phil, it is Americans. Not sure why you would doubt me. I am not in the habit of making stuff up. Since I am American, I know where people are from and get to watch and listen while the conductors and seniors scold Americans when they do this on the train.

Posted by
117 posts

Do heed the advice of wearing a pair of well worn, comfortable walking shoes -- just not sneakers/track shoes/ tennis shoes, or whatever you call them depending on what region you're from.

And the advice already given to "stop and take a mental picture" of your surroundings and what you're seeing is one of the best tips of all.

Posted by
9350 posts

Pat brings up a good point - take your own OTC meds. I woke up in the middle of the night once in a rural area of northern Spain with terrible indigestion. I was the only customer at my tiny casa rural, and my local friend had dropped me off there, so I had no transportation. No shop in town, and it was 2 a.m. But I had my own supply of something to take care of the problem, and I took it and went back to sleep.

Posted by
2525 posts

So, I apologize on behalf of the clods from America putting their feet on train and bus seats. Disgusting and rude. Separately, what can be done about some Europeans walking two or three abreast and not offering a hint of any space for oncoming foot traffic?

Posted by
10583 posts

Quite true about putting one's feet on the seat across from you on trains. In the 1970s the time of my first two trips I saw this too, quite often done, overwhelmingly by Americans, usually backpacker types. The trains then were the compartment types which sat 6 to a compartment. Nowadays, the IC trains in Germany electronically refurbished look like those in the 1970-80s.

Some Germans did it (I saw that too ) but you could very well bet when that happened they were (North) Americans, immediately recognisable before they spoke. True, some senior Germans did tell them off saying Füsse weg, which they didn't understand at first until they got message to get their feet off.

Posted by
164 posts

Gus: The posters have given you a lot of great tips for a fun trip. I would add that since you are leaving quite early in the morning from Rome, you do some on-line research on the best way to get to the airport. I suspect you will have to take a taxi and should make arrangements for that taxi through your hotel desk in advance, and double-check in advance, and possibly triple-check, in advance.

Posted by
3915 posts

Guss,

I must say, this is a popular thread & you've received very helpful information.

Here is a summary:

  1. pack light
  2. use ATM attached to bank during business hours
  3. beware of pickpockets--carry valuables in money belt or leave in hotel safe
  4. give yourself time to just enjoy the scenery sans agenda...
  5. if you see something you love & think about buying--buy it!
  6. Never pass up a bathroom & always carry coins... just in case.
  7. Take heed of Ms Jo's advise-- very good by the way!
  8. wear comfortable walking shoes
  9. take lots of photos
  10. Enjoy your trip!
Posted by
1800 posts

I must say that thanks to the wise & helpful people in these forums there wasn't much I didn't know (of great importance, that is) when I planned and made my own first trip to England 4 years ago, first time out of the US and alone but it all went perfectly. Everyone's already touched on the truly important bits--use the bathroom as often as one is presented, pack light, do your research, keep your wits about you and don't be afraid to speak up and ask questions from the locals.

One thing I learned for myself is to always know when it's time to stop and rest a bit, whether that means lunch in a restaurant, sandwich in the park or just sitting on a bench and re-charging my body. I keep to a pretty brisk pace and rests are crucial. I also do enough research to get a good idea of what MY must-sees are, then factor in some wriggle-room for stuff that pops up.

Posted by
5864 posts

I don't think I saw where anyone picked this up, but when you leave to come back home you will fly and land on the same day. Your schedule says you leave at 1030-ish from Europe and arrive at 1230-ish PM (noonish) which will be on the same day (just a BIG time change and you are traveling with the sun). I think you might have said leave Europe on the 25th and arrive on the 26, but it will be leaving and arriving on the 25th. I occasionally do arrive back after midnight on the day I leave Europe but that is just because there are few flights back into my N. Idaho airport!

By the way, when you are checking out how to turn on the shower, do it before you take your clothes off. That way if you have to go get some help you are already dressed, lol.

I wish someone had told me about having to insert the keycard in some hotels to get the power to come on. I do realize now there are some US hotels that have this set up but I had not seen it til I got to Italy.

Take a small ziplock bag and as soon as you are waiting at the gate to board segregate your US dollars and coins and stick it somewhere. Do this also if you are traveling in the future and are using both GB pounds and Euro to keep them separate. I could not understand why a taxi driver in Milan kept pushing my money back at me and then realized I was trying to pay him in pounds.

In talking about how much time it takes to go from one place to another, I find Venice particularly bad about this. The vaporettos seem to take forever when you are going to the train station and really you just have to go with the flow and enjoy the experience.

Posted by
10105 posts

There's lots of good advice above. I want to especially emphasize the need to learn about ticket procedures on transit in each place. In many places you need to buy a ticket before you get on a bus or tram, then validate it on the vehicle; failure to do both of these things means you are "riding black" (as it's referred to in German) and can get a heavy fine when the ticket inspectors come around. Other places use different systems; learn the details of each city before you get there, so you don't make any expensive mistakes. And don't believe the stories that the ticket inspectors are non-existent or rare. On my last trip to Sicily, I hadn't been on my first Palermo bus more than 60 seconds before the tickets were checked (luckily, I had followed my own advice and so was carrying a properly validated ticket).

One tip I haven't see yet: In many hotels (especially in Germany) the hall lights don't stay on. You have to activate them; the switch is lit up, but the hall stays dark until you use the switch. It's so standard that my B&B owner in Berlin was quite puzzled that he would have to explain it to anyone. So, if you see a dark hallway, look for the light switch!

On a related, note, don't be afraid to ask how to work the heater or air conditioner in your hotel room; they are often controlled with wands that only have symbols.

And yes, there is a far greater variety of shower and toilet contraptions in Europe than you will see in the US. If you keep cool and remember that there has to be some way to get them to work, you usually can figure them out.

Posted by
64 posts

Very Very useful information here!

I got all I need and then some! Thank you guys!! I am sure all this awesome advice will be helpful to a lot of first timers.

Adding to Priscilla's summary:

  • pack light
  • use ATM attached to bank during business hours
  • beware of pickpockets--carry valuables in money belt or leave in hotel safe
  • give yourself time to just enjoy the scenery sans agenda...
  • if you see something you love & think about buying--buy it!
  • Never pass up a bathroom & always carry coins... just in case.
  • Take heed of Ms Jo's advise-- very good by the way! (good list!)
  • wear comfortable walking shoes
  • take lots of photos
  • Enjoy your trip!
  • You will become obsessed
  • Bring an adult diaper, more convenient and cost effective (just kidding)
Posted by
796 posts

I don't know of anything I wish I knew when I first went to Europe because that first trip was with experienced travelers who told me what I needed to know and were there to assist me but we have traveled with friends who wish they had taken our advice and flown first class and chosen luxury hotels and booked in advance. Other friends wished they had made restaurant reservations and bought rail passes and tickets to sites in advance. Traveling in comfort and being able to stretch out and sleep on a plane is important and a luxurious hotel is the perfect base for exploring. I advise those who don't speak the languages to look online for simple language lessons and carry along a guidebook. I learned on my first trip how useful it was to have maps of every area and to use the native language as often as possible for better service. In addition to my native English, I speak French, German, Italian, a little Dutch and a little Czech and this goes a long way. Most important- savor each moment. Don't be so focused on seeing what you are supposed to see to just stop and enjoy it rather than spending the whole time photographing it.

Posted by
715 posts

One thing to add to the squat toilets with the foot prints. Get off the foot prints and out of the toilet before you pull the damn chain to flush.

Posted by
3260 posts

"Don't be so focused on seeing what you are supposed to see to just stop and enjoy it rather than spending the whole time photographing it."

I just want to mention - maybe because I love taking photos (and have sold some in my etsy shop) - but I find I notice so many more small details and actually linger longer in a spot and look around more to get that perfect photo (just ask my poor husband who had to hang around the Tower of London last Sept an extra 30 min while I took so many photos of the poppy display). The last trip especially, I get up at the crack of dawn (OK, 7am) to go out and explore wherever we are staying to see it without all the crowds. I actually try to get off the beaten path to find something unexpected and different to photograph.

That being said, don't be one of those selfie-obsessed, take-a-photo-with-your-ipad/iphone people...and not really look at what you are taking the photo of. Get out early, stay out late, wander off the beaten path, linger, observe little details...with or without a camera...

Posted by
1642 posts

I agree Nicole! We take tons of photos and video, too. We are getting old, well not that old, and don't remember things a well as we use to. But every morning we drink coffee and watch our photos go by on our computer. We travel every morning and see things we would have forgotten. We also watch our video and hear all the noises, languages etc. and it brings everything back to life. I don't think it diminishes our experiences at all. We get to relive all the details for years to come.

Posted by
28 posts

That there is a subway from the Champs Élysées to the Arc did Triomphe. I crossed 7 rows of traffic stopping on each dividing line as cars sped past.

This was in 1978 when I was young and stupid and I'm just grateful that I lived to tell this tale!

Posted by
10105 posts

"there is a subway from the Champs Élysées to the Arc did Triomphe."

For the North Americans reading this: "subway" is Britspeak for "underground passageway," not a Metro (although the entrance to it on the Champs-Elysees does, indeed, look a bit like a Metro station entrance).

Posted by
845 posts

Lots of great advice! I would like to add that you should keep a travel journal to record your daily thoughts and activities like where you went, restaurants and foods that you tried, transportation used and money spent. I try to write every night but sometimes I'm just too tired so those train trips are great opportunities to catch up on your journal. I also bring a gallon plastic baggy to keep my paper mementos like ticket stubs and museum maps in one place. I love going back and reading my journals! Since you're taking trains in Italy, I have to emphasize the advice to have all your things together and be standing at the door ready to disembark when the train stops. We missed getting off at our stop in Monterosso in the CT by being unprepared and we had to get off at the next stop which was Levanto, I think, and wasted an hour waiting for the next train going back to CT. That's precious sightseeing time wasted.

Posted by
11613 posts

An aside to Nicole, a different perspective: I get very good photos with my iPad mini, I don't take a billion photos of one sight, no selfies ever, and I wait a few minutes rather than block someone's view. I waited a long time to get the sunlight-through-stained-glass photo at St-Denis, but my camera couldn't have done it any better.

So another thing to know: don't underestimate the versatility of the electronics you bring.

Posted by
3260 posts

Zoe - you are a rare one :) If only others could be as considerate...

I'm just thinking about the complaints I've read on here about people using their ipads to take photos in museums and such, blocking the views for others without a care in the world. And I'm just of that age where I think selfies are (almost) the worst - some people are so obsessed with having their faces plastered in every...blessed...photo (I've more than a few fb friends who do this). I've taken a few pics with my ipad mini as well (well, I've used it and my ipod for videos mainly)...but as someone who makes an extremely modest income from selling photos (a little spending money really), an ipad just won't cut it for being able to enlarge to 11x14 and 16x20.

And the idea of keeping a journal - whether written or electronic - spot on. Our first trip I kept a written journal, writing down our daily adventures every evening. On the second trip, we travelled so much, I barely felt awake to do it most evenings. The last few years of trips, I've been using travelpod on my ipad - I tend more to just do a daily points list to remember the basics of each day, filling in the rest of the story when I get home at my leisure...I still like to go back every once in awhile to read about the trip and remember...

Oh - and what Claudette said about being prepared to get off the trains...when we did our trip last year (me, hubby and mom), we took the train from Naples to Rome...when the train was slowing to come into the station, I got my stuff down like everyone else and went by the doors. For some reason, hubby and mom waited until the train stopped at the station - so there I am waiting beside the train for them to get off - meanwhile, because they waited until the last minute, they had to fight past the people crowding onto the train...some of these trains only make a very short stop, so know your stop and be ready to get off - good idea to know maybe the stop before yours so you can prepare, especially if the train is making frequent short stops - when we were going thru the South of France, we were to get off in Villefranche sur Mer (coming from Ventimiglia). For some dumb reason, I thought Cannes was before VsM (which it isn't if you are coming from Italy, duh) and so when the train pulled into the stn and the stn was announced, hubby and I almost didn't make it off the train! I had my headphones on and I think he was reading, not paying attention...we also got off the wrong stop on our first trip to Italy - missed the stop in Naples to go to Herculaneum - had to wait an hour for the next train to take us back, and for some reason when going to CT, the ticket said via Carrera, which we stupidly thought meant we had to change trains at Carrera...nope...another hour wasted waiting for a train.

Posted by
11613 posts

Sometimes I take an iPad photo of the departures poster that shows the stops before mine. It's so true that people begin trying to board while others are stepping off.

Posted by
3538 posts

What I wish I understood before the trip was that people actually live and work and recreate there, and its not all there just for my vacation pleasure. In other words, its not a theme park. I learned that if I made more of an effort to understand and appreciate the contemporary culture, the more I would enjoy the differences of a strange country, rather than looking for inconveniences.

I too take a lot fewer photos than I used to. Regret taking the SLR and three lenses on first trip. But I also learned that taking photos of signs to show what town I am in will help organize things later.

Posted by
5864 posts

I was thinking about your thread when I woke up this morning and thought of something else. I am not sure I can articulate this very well, but in my mind many Europeans have more rigid views about food and when and how it is served than the way it is viewed in the US (and maybe Canada). I know that is a way too general statement, but let me give an example or two.

-Here if you want to order just a beer and an order of French Fries at a restaurant that serves both you can. My brother and I were in Brussels last summer heading out to visit an airfield in Eastern Belgium that our Dad flew from in WWII. We were in Brussels overnight and were at Grand Place which Dad had loved. They lived there in the 70's and my brother remembered he and Dad had had a beer at one of the sidewalk cafes on Grand Place on their first day in Brussels, so we thought why not! Those places are kind of expensive but really, the view and people watching are excellent. We ordered beer which of course was doable, but no, we could not order French Fries/Frites. They could not be ordered separately as they were only were served with certain meals and it was not time to order those meals as best we could understand from the server.

-In Ireland, on a RS tour, my brother and I (both vegan) really enjoyed the 1st course vegetable (and vegan) soup. The server was really worried as we were not going to have the main entree but her face showed an expression of horror when we asked if we could just get another cup of soup as it was delicious. No, that was the starter, but she could organize salad for us, which was fine but what we ~really~ wanted was another round of the delicious soup! (It also was not because they were running out of soup as we saw others being served soup as starters).

So, I guess my point is, just be aware that some areas have expectations of a certain progression thru the meal and will want you to stick to their idea of how a meal is properly served. It is all part of the cultural education!

Posted by
4108 posts

Since the internet wasn't in business when I took my first trip ... if taking a train, you can print out the listing of stops with arriving times so you can start getting ready after the prior stop. Also, if you have made a seat reservation you can print out the car diagram showing direction of travel so you can figure out the preferred door to enter (without fighting upstream with bags from the wrong end of the car.)

Posted by
15 posts

Dear Pam,
"Here if you want to order just a beer and an order of French Fries at a restaurant that serves both you can (...)We ordered beer which of course was doable, but no, we could not order French Fries/Frites"
Does it mean that no restaurant in Belgium will serve you beer and fries? Have you checked them all? Aren't you generalizing here?

Posted by
5864 posts

Ouch Rose. Just citing my experience in the one restaurant. I though I was clear about that. The general take away meaning was supposed to illustrate that many Europeans have more definite views about what is appropriate to order at what time. I find restaurants in the US are much more apt to let you order free-form from the menu.

Posted by
6943 posts

Pam, it was always clear to me. Obviously not all restaurants are the same, but all we can do is site our individual experiences. You clearly did that.

Posted by
931 posts

I didn't think bathrooms were that hard in any city big enough to have the usual fast food chains. Get a one euro small Coca Cola Light (and it is tiny) at a McDonalds or Burger King and it gets you bathroom access.

There is no shame in hitting the food and beverage wall and just wanting a taste of home at some point. And a soda with unlimited ice and refills. The Hard Rock Cafe largely stays in business in many countries from north Americans looking for a properly cold Coke.

Some hotels require you to put your room key in a slot to turn lights and CH&A on. While a handful of hotels have it set up with a RFID tag in the key, with most of them, your grocery store loyalty card from back works just as well in the slot and housekeeping generally won't mess with it. (I'm not condoning running the AC when you aren't in the room; I've just had one too many times coming back to the room after dark and finding the card slot can require going pretty far into the room- way past the first light switch. I like the card already in there so I can turn the lights on easier.)

Posted by
258 posts

The need for tissues in case the toilets did not have any paper and the need for coins to get into the toilet. This was true in the 1970s and is still the case today (except now it costs one euro instead of 20 pfennings). Also that unisex toilets are not uncommon so don't be surprised if a member of the opposite sex comes out of what you think was "your" toilet. Also, if you're looking for a bathroom, ask for the WC or Toilette. A bathroom is where you take a bath, not go to the toilet.
But, I do miss the ease of travel back in the 1970s-1990s. A rail pass was very economical then and allowed me to travel all over Europe without reservations anywhere. Someplace looked interesting, I just got off the train.
The biggest thing, especially now, is to heed to the instructions of the police. I was in Germany during the Baader-Meinhoff years. It was shocking to see police with machine guns and dogs patrolling public places. Unfortunately, that is common place now.

Posted by
10583 posts

Re: the ease of traveling in the 1970s-to the early 1990s....how true. It's a trade -off. Some things were easier then, some now. I only saw police patroling with submachine guns because of the B-M gang at Frankfurt airport in 1977. Still, they (in twos) wanted to project a subdued image by slinging the weapon over the shoulder with the barrel pointed downwards, ie to the ground, whereas les français patrolled in threes (generally) in response to terrorism, the center soldier pointing the weapon straight out, ie in firing position.

Posted by
931 posts

Though if you look at crime numbers, that era was probably more dangerous than it is today. We just didn't have the 24 hour news cycle to constantly harp on the latest plane hijacking (almost common at some point in the 70s) attempt to blow up Rome airport or the Paris metro or IRA bombing a pub in London. And I remember a bus day tour to see the decidedly unfriendly West Germany-East Germany border.

Posted by
64 posts

Back to the WC topic.

This may be relevant. A site that tells you where to dump the toilet paper at each country:

http://www.wheredoiputthepaper.com/

Sounds lame but it could save you some awkward floodings I think. (Plus it's funny)

Posted by
2577 posts

More on the footprint toilets: The one I encountered in Ukraine didn't have a flush mechanism. It really was just a hole in the floor.

Posted by
18759 posts

That it is really, really, really smart to learn how to pack light. We paid some heavy prices for too much luggage on our first trip in '93.

Posted by
9350 posts

Regarding having to put your key card in a slot to turn on the lights and AC, in Sevilla a couple of years ago, the hotel actually gave us a metal "card" to put in the slot so that we could leave the AC on while we were out. Of course, it was over 100 degrees at the time, so maybe it was actually more cost efficient for them to leave it running rather than have to cool it down.

Posted by
64 posts

Yes!! I have noticed all the places I'll stay at have a bidet! Gonna do some research.

Posted by
5864 posts

Well Guss, laughing, because if you have a Rick Steves tour guide they may be able to explain the use to you!

Posted by
64 posts

hahaha! Thanks for the tip Pam! I actually did get it for Christmas! I will then proceed and read the heck out of it! :) (Europeans must have very clean butts!)

Posted by
5864 posts

Actually I did not phrase that well. What I meant was if you are on a Rick Steves tour the guide may be able to explain if asked!! Their knowledge is wide-ranging!

Posted by
64 posts

Oh I see.

Yea I almost did that but wanted to experience the adrenaline of being on our own and figure things out ourselves and not knowing what to expect for certain.

I am also noticing that I'm learning a lot by planning myself.

I will be bringing my Rick Steve's book and his guided tours on my phone.

I see you are a big fan :) (5 in 2 years!!!)

Posted by
64 posts

That is awesome Nicole P thanks for sharing! (I will try those for sure!)

Posted by
6943 posts

Nicole - So funny!! I like to start my day off with a laugh. Thanks!

Posted by
1470 posts

Oh, Nicole-how funny! Thank you for providing my day with an outloud laugh or two!

Posted by
3260 posts

I watched this a few months back, and the bidet question brought it back to mind - I also like watching on Buzzfeed things like Americans trying British snacks, Brits trying American snacks (that's funny) and being Canadian...Americans trying Canadian snacks - come on, poutine is the food of the Gods! (and...uh...heart disease and clogged arteries)

Posted by
333 posts

I repeat this mantra after every trip: Pack light and cut the itinerary in half (by promising yourself you will return).

I've returned 15 times.

Posted by
28 posts

I've learned a lot from this thread, primarily to pack light and don't be too American. ;)

Posted by
3260 posts

Other people have probably mentioned it, but I am learning to take a little more time in places - you will find a way to return. Before going over, we thought we could go back every 5 years - well...that turned into every two years, and soon I'm hoping we can go every two out of 3 years.

Our 2nd trip, I think we had 23 days, and we did Paris, Strasbourg, Augsburg, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Milan, Spiez, Bern, Zurich, London, Portsmouth (sister visit). Yes - so many 1 nights (6 spots were one night) - hubby forgot we even went to Munich - looking at photos and he was asking me where that was! We had been to London and Venice our 1st trip. Even our last few trips I still try to pack in a little too much...but I think I am finally starting to learn the benefits of slowing down. Less moving around is less time wasted and less money wasted! You really do lose a good half day just packing up, checking out, finding the next hotel and settling in. People don't really understand until they experience it - I mean, we had so much fun with our couchsurfing hostess in Augsburg, we didn't get to Munich until after supper, and had to leave the next day by 4pm to go to Salzburg - so all we saw of Munich was about 9am-3pm...after making such an effort to include it. We spent way more time in Bern then expected (we had a washing machine mishap at our couchsurfing spot - as in - the washing machine didn't spin out the laundry while we were away, so we had to hang around an extra 2 hours waiting for clothing to spin and dry...we got to Zurich about 8pm, got settled...we had about 4-5 hours the next day to explore before our flight to London...such a waste.

So try not to over plan - expect delays (I won't go into our train mishaps), spend at least 2 nights wherever you go (smaller villages) and I would say 4-5 nights for major spots like Rome, Paris, London. It's so hard with so little vacation time...but you will enjoy it more without the rush...

Posted by
2057 posts

Tipping: I find that guidebooks aren't much help with this. Best to email a local in advance and ask. For example, our guidebook to the UK said to tip 5-10% in restaurants, however we stayed with local Brits toward the end of our trip and were scolded for tipping in restaurants at all. But maybe London is the only exception to the UK no tipping rule? They seem to demand tips there. And how to tip, since it can't be added after the credit card is run. In this case you must verbally state any tip before the card is run, or enter it into the credit card machine thingy yourself. Or tip in cash.

Chip & PIN credit cards: You may go to the trouble of getting these and find that the turnpike booth machines or gas station pumps won't take them anyway. In some situations in Europe you will not be able to buy, since they have only an automated machine that won't take cash or your US credit cards (unmanned gas stations, metro ticket machines, or unmanned toll booths are 3 examples). A little extra drama when you need to return a rental car and are in a hurry to catch a flight or train and can't buy gas at the first gas station you stop at.

Ditto on the need to weigh and label your own produce in the supermarket.

Ditto on the need to figure out how to get the rental car into reverse, in our case we needed to squeeze the shift ball!

Go to the bother of getting a bank account that allows free ATM withdrawals in Europe and a credit card that does not charge a currency conversion fee.

Posted by
64 posts

Wow Tom! I thought most was pretty much covered but you proved me wrong. Thanks for these useful tips.

I actually just got a credit card with a chip because someone told me it is a must. Hope it works at all but I will bring variety anyway.

Bill, glad to know someone else is benefitting from this thread! :-)

Posted by
64 posts

Wow Tom! I thought most was pretty much covered but you proved me wrong. Thanks for these useful tips.

I actually just got a credit card with a chip because someone told me it is a must. Hope it works at all but I will bring variety anyway.

Bill, glad to know someone else is benefitting from this thread! :-)

Posted by
675 posts

How to ask for "tap, not bottled, water" in their language!

Posted by
63 posts

Lean towards trains/buses rather than car rental. I spent a fair amount of extra money before I got out of my USA traveling habits.

Learn how to get tap water, or at least not get carbonated water (which I hate) when I do get bottled water.

Other than that, I've managed things fairly well thanks to guide books and good fortune.

Posted by
3260 posts

I don't know - a car rental has it's place...a big city isn't one of them, but for exploring out of the way spots and flexibility and spontaneity...we rented a car for a few days in France and were able to get places that were not accessible by public trans or only in a really roundabout way with a train or bus. We went to Mont St Michel and were able to linger as it got dark - if we'd relied on public transport, that wouldn't have been possible. We were able to stay with some lovely couchsurfing hosts in a beautiful tiny village called Amblie (which wasn't too far from Courseulles-sur-Mer and the Juno Beach Center, which we wanted to visit). When I priced out trains and buses, the few days car rental was about the same. Mind you, I guess France has some of the best rates going for rentals. The convenience of having a car in that part of France (time savings alone) outweighed the negatives of tolls and gas...for us. And I do still prefer trains and metro for big cities and long distances, but sometimes a car can't be beat...we were very nervous about it, but things went mostly fine after a GPS mishap and a cruise thru Paris on a Sunday morning...lol.