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

Looking to travel Europe, but not quite sure how? We’re offering Tips for Traveling in Europe over the next five weeks!

Hey, friends!

Many of you may not know, but Ernie is a KCBS (Kansas City BBQ Society) sanctioned judge. He signs up to judge competitions typically within a four-hour driving radius, and based on our NC location, the season lasts from April until November. Last year, he came up with the brilliant idea of volunteering to judge a couple back-to-back European competitions. Cool, huh? Since I love Europe, how could I argue?

The first competition was in Hasselt, about an hour’s train ride outside of Brussels. We flew into Brussels and spent a couple days wandering around Grand Place, the bustling central square and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oh my goodness, amaaaazzing!

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Brussels

From there, we railed to quaint Hasselt for a couple days, then on to Berlin via Cologne, and lastly Amsterdam via Osnabruck. For the last four years, we’ve cruised across Europe, but this was our first land venture. Over the next five weeks, we’ll be sharing our experiences and what we learned from them. These posts will be longer than most, but our hope is that you’ll find something of value. Maybe we’ll inspire you to take the plunge and push past your traveling comfort zone. Will pictures help? No worries. We’ll throw some of them in too. 🙂

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Berlin

This week, let’s talk about research. We spent countless hours scouring the Internet before we ever committed to purchasing plane tickets.

 Research

Choose your itinerary.

Because of the BBQ events, we had a beginning (Brussels) and ending point (Amsterdam) and a time frame. On a map, we pinpointed cities that looked interesting or those that were already on our bucket list. Our son had traveled to Berlin a couple years ago and encouraged us to add that to our list. Prague was on our bucket list. We started with a list of probably seven or eight cities (besides Brussels and Amsterdam) and whittled them down to three using Go Euro. This free app/site is not only a great tool to research cheapest, shortest routes between cities and offers comparisons between trains, buses and flights, but it also showed us that Prague might be a bit farther than what our few days would allow.

Select hotels

What’s important to you? For us, it was free Wi-Fi, a private bathroom (yes, there are some hotels with shared facilities, even shared rooms!) and since we chose not to spend our entire budget on taxis, ample eating options available nearby. These priorities may not be yours. What about air conditioning? This was our first trip overseas with temperatures edging 80. Most of our hotels didn’t offer a/c. Who’d have thought? We never cooled off until we hit Amsterdam, where the temps dived to 50. Then, we didn’t need a/c. lol.

Europe is full of cobblestone streets, bridges, and stairs, so consider how far you’ll be dragging your suitcase. Honestly, by the time we hit Osnabruck, when we stepped out of the train station and saw our hotel directly across the circle, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Based on past experiences, we only book through a third party such as Kayak if the hotel offers free cancellation.

Lastly, be mindful of individual personalities. How far do you want to travel in one day? How long do you prefer to stay in one place? Hubby can’t sit still, so he was excited to hit new spots every day. I wouldn’t mind hanging out in one place for a few days, even a week or more, visiting the same café (like this one) every day and getting comfortable with my surroundings.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Funkhaus, Cologne, Germany

So, pick a happy medium. Keep in mind that you’ll be packing up your stuff every time you move.

Scope out airfares

Once we decide on our itinerary, we scope out airfares. Get a baseline price then check your favorite app (kayak, cheapflights, etc) several times a week. Note good prices and carriers with the least amount of stops and flying time. Usually cost ranks highest on our priorities, then flying time. We snagged a deal through Vayama with one stop both ways. The flight to DC was an hour and a half, and only six and a half more to Brussels. We barely had time to rest between the dinner and breakfast services. Such a relief compared to the grueling 8-15 hour flights we’ve endured. After this trip, we might pay a bit more for a shorter flying time. Resist the temptation to save a few bucks by booking two stops. Go for one or none. 🙂

After doing this round trip to Europe a few times now, we would never buy tickets where we’re stuck in the middle of a row seven or eight seats deep. Ack! We would pay extra to find a plane with a max of three seats on the side. Trust us. It’s too long of a flight to squeeze past three or four people to use the restroom or just to stretch your legs, especially when those people are snoozing. If you can sit still for eight hours at a time, those middle seats might work fine for you. Not us.

We choose our seats based on the direction we’re flying. Anybody else do that? Lol. Both of us love window seats for different reasons. Hubby can sleep better against the window. Frankly, I think that’s a waste of a good window seat. Windows are for catching a glimpse of a new city for the first time and for pondering how small you are in the big scheme of things. Oh, and so you can be the first to see that engine cover rip off and hurl through the vast sky. (How did that happen?? Yikes!) We usually snag windows and middle/aisle, but you may prefer the extra room that an aisle affords. But I digress. The point is I do not like to sit with the sun blasting my arm, so we choose seats opposite the sun.

tips for traveling in Europe

Anybody else choose your seat based on the direction you’re flying?

Then, after we get a handle on what’s a good price and the carriers with the shortest flying time and available seats, we finally bite when another sale rolls around.

Split it up

If you’re traveling with a partner, split the research. Hubby handled transportation while I secured lodging, with input from each other. That way everybody invests in the travel experience. Be sure not to cast blame when details don’t fall neatly into place because the next day a challenge might arise on your end. 🙂

Hope this helps. Next week, we’ll discuss what to bring and how to pack for your European vacation.

Where did you go during your last trip? Did it involve much planning? What would you do differently? What did you learn from it?