“A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” ~Robert Orben
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.
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!
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.
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?