Tips for Traveling in Europe

Thanks so much for joining us for another Tips for Traveling in Europe! We’re honored and thrilled that you’ve chosen to visit.

Let’s recap. Our first week, we discussed research, specifically itineraries, hotels and airfares. Next we went over packing, how much, how little, what to bring and why. Then, we covered the trip itself, on the plane and when you get there. Last week, we discovered ways to get around, and how public transportation is a way of life in Europe, unlike most of the US.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Public transportation is a way of life in Europe.

This week is our final post, and we’ll be chatting about cultural differences and overall experiences.

 Cultural Differences

Why do we expect foreign travelers to know English when they visit the US? In unfamiliar territory, we were thrilled to happen upon people who spoke our language, but why should we expect them to know it? An attitude of entitlement will not go as far, nor is it as kind, as a simple “English please?”

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Kindness makes the world more beautiful!

In general, Europeans seem much more relaxed and easy-going than Americans. For example, we boarded a train in Germany headed to Amsterdam, our last stop. A few minutes in, hubby’s all settled, reviewing work documents on his tablet, and I’m reading. Since the announcements were in German, we’d mostly ignored them, but I caught a snippet of somewhat identifiable words.

“Technical difficulties. Depart. Bus.”

Twenty minutes later, the train stopped and passengers loaded up and began to exit. We found a kind, English-speaking soul who informed us that, indeed, we were to exit the train and wait for a bus to take us to our final destination.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

No complaints from anybody!

No complaints from anybody. If that happened in America, don’t you know somebody would make their displeasure known loud enough for everybody to hear.

Three or four buses and an hour later, we’re rolling along on the bus, people stuffed in like sardines in a tin, standing and sitting all along the aisle. Suddenly, there’s a commotion and good-natured laughter permeates the bus. Of course, because of the language barrier, we have no idea why.

Border patrol. Checking passports and identification of Every. Single. Person. On. The. Bus.

Really?

Still, not one person complained during the entire trip to Amsterdam. Even when another train cancelled, forcing those same passengers to take yet another train and backtrack to their destination. One of those sweet travelers had spent her savings to take a university class that she was in danger of missing. Another was extremely late for a new job. Yet, the whole day, they laughed and smiled and rolled with the punches.

Me? I’m glad I found the water closet on the train. 🙂

Cruise versus land

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Cruising on the Celebrity Constellation

We’ve done both now, and can’t really say which we prefer. Both offer tremendous value. It’s like choosing from your favorite ice cream flavors. Do you feel like coconut today or espresso chocolate chip? Here are some items to consider:

With land travel…

You pack and unpack often. On a cruise ship, you unpack once and have a home base every night.

You dive deeper into the cultures of each city. With cruising, you visit multiple ports, but a shorter duration and may not even have the opportunity to sample local cuisine. Eating local could be a pro or a con, though. In Venice, the majority of restaurants are Italian. If you don’t like Italian food, you might not want to plan a week-long stay there. 🙂

You choose to stay or move on. With cruising, your itinerary is pretty much set, except for inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances.

Bottom line, there’s work/research involved in both methods of traveling. Even cruising, we still research prices of airline tickets, excursion choices and pre/post cruise stays. We initially thought we’d have more control over our day, but considering the train incident above, maybe not. 🙂

If your idea of a perfect vacation is to be pampered, definitely go the cruise route. If you enjoy more freedom and flexibility and don’t mind the exercise, opt to travel by land.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Which travel method would you choose? Land or cruise?

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Thanks so much for joining us for another Tips for Traveling in Europe post! We’re honored and thrilled that you’ve chosen to visit.

Let’s recap. Our first week, we discussed research, specifically itineraries, hotels and airfares. Then we went over packing, how much, how little, what to bring and why. Last week, we covered the trip itself, on the plane and while you’re there. This week, let’s talk about how to get around. Using public transportation is a way of life in Europe, unlike most of the US. 

Public Transportation

 Trains

We experienced our first train ride last year when we railed from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Venice.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Train travel

We learned a lot. First, conductors don’t like to be late, and if you’re the cause, look out. Second, to pack lighter, much lighter. Our latest experience was much better thanks to the lessons learned then. 🙂

Tickets

For our Venice trip, we purchased tickets in advance. Typically, tickets can only be purchased up to three months in advance. During our last trip, we waited to buy tickets the day of travel, but in one situation, the price skyrocketed $100. At that point, we purchased tickets for the rest of our itinerary. If you plan to purchase tickets the day of departure, arrive at the station a bit early. If you prefer to travel with lots of space and not as much noise, you might prefer first class tickets. We were satisfied with regular seats.

 Terminals

We complain about security measures in US, but European train stations employ none. A bit alarming, but public transportation is a way of life. Just like the metro in DC, people use the train to get from one end of a city to another or cross countries. Stations are all so different, some small, others massive, several layers deep, like Berlin.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Berlin Train Station

Tips for Traveling in Europe

My honey ❤

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Trains are not created equal. 🙂

Just like the stations, the trains are different. But one thing they all have in common?

Be ready.

They don’t tarry long. If you run up to the door as it’s closing, too bad.

When you purchase a ticket, the platform number and car will be noted. Much like an airline terminal/gate, the platform number tells you where to embark. Many trains only stop in the station for a handful of minutes. Be ready to get on because they won’t wait for you.

With our reserved seats, we struggled to find the designated cars. Someone finally told us that the train cars are marked at the doors, but we couldn’t see the numbers until the train stopped. Also, terminals provide layouts of the trains, but you may not have time to find it. Ideally, locating your particular car and entering there is preferable, so you’re not dragging your luggage through crowded aisles, but not always practical. The cars interconnect, so get on anywhere and work your way to available or ticketed seats.

Comfort

Snacks and drinks are allowed, but the longer distance trains also usually have a snack car with sandwiches and drinks. The seats feature a tray for eating and/or computing, and generally trains provide much more legroom than airplanes. You can purchase particular seats for a few extra dollars which helps if you’re traveling with someone on crowded trains. They don’t appear to exercise occupancy restrictions as people just keep piling in. If you don’t purchase particular seats, be prepared to move if someone shows up with those tickets. Water closets are typically near the exits and are similar to airplane restrooms.

Stops

Many of the smaller stations aren’t marked really well, and since GPS wasn’t always reliable inside the trains, we didn’t always know which station we were coming into. And when you don’t recognize the language, well, that creates a problem if you need to be ready to disembark, right? Lol. When we purchased the remaining trains in our itinerary, a very kind train attendant printed off the list of stops for each ride, so we knew where we were most of the time, which helped my stressometer. But, if not, ask. Most people are friendly and willing to help.

 Pack light.

As mentioned, if you’re not able to lift or tote your suitcase yourself, train travel might be challenging for you. Between getting to the platforms and getting on the train, lots of steps are involved. We found that travel became much easier, more carefree, with less stuff. We’re not quite to just the backpack stage, but close. 🙂

Planes

Trains have been so accessible, we have yet to fly within Europe. Although air travel is a much cheaper option there than the US, the luggage restrictions are different from major carriers, 44 lbs vs 50 for international travelers. In the past, we packed every bit of 50 lbs in our suitcase, so flying creates a dilemma, which we intend to remedy.

Buses

During our most recent trip, one of the trains experienced technical difficulties and forced everyone to vacate with instructions to wait for a bus. We don’t know how many buses it took to transport riders about five stops down the rail, but we finally made it on the third or fourth bus, with more waiting.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Train to Bus to Amsterdam, finally!

Europeans take these challenges in stride, just relaxed and munched on snacks while soaking in the sunshine, such positive attitudes and always prepared. Every seat full and people crammed into the aisle of the bus, everyone laughed and joked, even when border patrol stopped the bus and inspected every person’s passports. Wish that more US citizens sported this relaxed, carefree attitude.

Walking

Might as well gear up to walk. Even so, determine when. In Berlin, Google Map indicated our hotel was a 35-minute walk from the train station. We were okay with that. Started off mid-afternoon, an hour later…When we headed out, we took a taxi. Only 12 euros. Had we known how long the walk, we would’ve taken a taxi to our hotel. Just sayin’, sometimes you gotta know when to walk and when to fold. Lol

We treasure your comments and appreciate your input, so be sure to pop in with any tips you’d like to add or what you learned from this post. Make sure you come back next week for the last installment where we’ll compare pros and cons of land tours versus cruising and share our overall experience takeaway.

How did you step out of your comfort zone last week?

Based on this post, would you consider traveling by train?

Are you an experienced train traveler? What would you add?

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Wow! Thanks so much for joining us for another week of Tips for Traveling in Europe! We’re so honored and thrilled that you’ve stopped by again. If this is your first visit, welcome. 🙂

Let’s recap. Our first week, we discussed research, specifically itineraries, hotels and airfares. Last week, we went over packing, how much, how little, what to bring and why. This week, let’s talk about the trip itself.

On the plane

Drink plenty of water and avoid sodas, coffee and alcohol.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Give up coffee? OH, NO!

Some of you might need the alcohol (lol), but we’ve read that it dehydrates. At dinner, we take a couple Ibuprofen. Afterward, I like to visit the restroom to brush my teeth and freshen up, and do the same in the morning before deplaning. A spot of deodorant and clean breath do wonders to make you feel better. The airlines provide travel pillows, but sleeping is always a battle for me even with an inflatable side pillow. I generally read, play games, and watch movies while Ernie snoozes. Wear comfortable, loose clothing and easy to slip on/off shoes and a backpack works great as a foot stool. Some people use compression socks for circulation although we haven’t tried them.

Once you get there

 The Shock Factor

Be prepared when you step off that plane to be shocked. Firstly, sometimes you won’t recognize a word on the foreign signs, and you might go for days without hearing English by someone other than your traveling partner.

Secondly, the sights. When we stepped out of the train station in Cologne, this greeted us. Imagine!

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Cathedral in Cologne, steps from the train station

How many times do you see something like that in the US? But here, it’s an everyday occurrence.

 Don’t stand out! Guides have warned us in the past not to draw attention to our tourist status. The first words out of our mouths do that, anyway. 🙂 We haven’t seen many Europeans wearing white sneakers or ball caps like in the US, and carrying backpacks are common in some areas but not others. Just be cognizant of your surroundings and keep your belongings secure, especially in crazy crowded areas like Rome. We mostly use charge cards, but always divide our limited currency between us. Some men wear belly wallets (a wallet that straps around their waist). I wear a crossbody purse with lots of zippers. Depending on the area, I may also tuck my purse in my backpack.

Apps: Google Translator helped some. Download the language/s before your trip. To translate, you type in words, speak, or use the camera function. The most valuable app for us, though, was Here Maps. Don’t leave home without it. Here Maps can be used offline, and GPS tracks your location. Hubby favorited all the train stations and hotels before our trip. Trust me, we used this app every time we left the hotel and we’d have been lost without it.

WC => water closet/toilet. Always carry a few €50 coins to use the water closets. Even McDonald’s charges for attendants. Some European areas charge to use WC’s while others don’t.

Eating. Go with your gut. Lol. We usually ask hotel staff to recommend their favorite local restaurants.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Amazing food in Germany!

Tips for Traveling in Europe

A local favorite. This entire space filled up in minutes.

Be aware of where you’re staying over Sundays and holidays. One tiny town practically closed up on Sunday, and only a handful of restaurants near our hotel were open. In the Netherlands, we chose to stay near the BBQ event, which limited restaurant options to hotel facilities or a bus ride to the nearest city. Get creative. During one rainy blustery day, we took the hotel shuttle back to the airport and wandered around all the shops and leisurely enjoyed coffee and lunch. Many places offer an English menu, but you may have to ask. Oh, don’t expect to find iced tea or to be able to order decaf anything, and sometimes you’ll have a choice of “gas” water (with fizz). 🙂

Rest. The last thing you want is to come down ill while you’re traveling or right when you get back home. It’s tough to rest well for many reasons. You’re in a strange bed every night. You try to squeeze in as much as possible because time is limited. Perhaps you drink too much caffeine, like us, although caffeine doesn’t affect Ernie like it does me. But building in rest time is important. You’re combatting weakened immunities, germs from all the public transport stations/vehicles, etc. Find shady spots where you can and rest or head back to the hotel during the warmest part of the day. Drink plenty of water. We bought bottled water daily.

Sightseeing. We’ve explored cities a few different ways, mostly by contracted cruise excursion companies, where the ship doesn’t leave until all passengers report back. Last year we arrived in Istanbul a full day prior to our cruise and arranged for a private tour company. We were a bit anxious about using a company outside of the cruise line, but great reviews backed them up. A driver picked the four of us up from our hotel, then the guide, and we enjoyed a private tour of several historical landmarks along with an authentic local lunch. They dropped us off at the cruise terminal with time to spare. As hubby says, “Google is your friend.” Before you book, check out their reviews.

Hop on/hop off buses are also a great option for exploring. We chose this option in Brussels and Berlin. For approximately €20 each, the bus took us around the city. Using earphones, a pre-recorded message of various attractions translates in several different languages. With stops located strategically around the city and a scheduled bus every twenty minutes or so, you can hop on or off at any stop, wander around for as long as you like, then catch the next bus. It’s a wonderful way to get the overall flavor of a city without spending a ton of money or investing an entire day, unless you choose to.

Phone/data. Overseas charges are too pricey for us. Before this trip, we considered all our options, but we finally decided just to book hotels with Internet and turn our mobile OFF. Leaving your phone on airplane and Wi-Fi ON allows you to connect when Wi-Fi is available, but you’re not charged for data and can’t receive phone calls or texts. While connected in the hotels, we video called our family using Google Hangout. For texting while in Wi-Fi range, our son introduced us to What’s App. If you’re Internet-deprived, search out a McDonald’s or Internet café.

It’s a team effort.

Utilize your strengths. Hubby’s is map reading and navigating. I’m still trying to determine mine. Maybe organization and timekeeper and safety patrol. Lol. I don’t know how many times I yanked hubby’s arm when he ventured into the street before the crosswalk signal turned green. In the Netherlands, it seems you run a greater risk of being run over by a bicycle than a car. No joke! But, for sure, everybody respects the signals more than in the US.

What did you learn this week? Next week, we’ll highlight public transportation, specifically trains. Hope you can come back for a visit. We challenge you to step out of your comfort zone this week!

What would you add for comfortable plane travel?

What tips can you offer for using phone/data overseas?