Are you American? Do you dream of traveling in Europe? Europe is one, if not the most, desirable travel destinations in the world. Whether it’s your first time to Europe, second, or third, these Europe travel tips for Americans will get you pumped to start planning your own trip!
For the purpose of this article I have gathered Europe travel tips from five friends (including one sister and one professor) who have either lived abroad in Europe or have traveled throughout Europe (or both!) Find out what their best advice is for Americans traveling to Europe!
In this article you will find a comprehensive, thorough, and extensive (you get the point) list of wonderful, insightful, and wise travel tips from experienced travelers who have either lived in Europe or have traveled across/through/around/in it. Below you will find travel tips from co-authors of this post: Gray Sotir, Aimee B. Hall, Marshall Bennett, Brooke Maloizel, and a few fun extra tips from my sister Laurin and I. Enjoy!
Europe Travel Tips for Americans
Grayon William Sotir – Lived in Angers, France for six months and has traveled to the following European countries: Austria, Czech Republic, Sweden, UK (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland), Ireland, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Greece, Poland, Ukraine
“Timing and destinations: The world market is constantly fluctuating. When I visited France in 2014, the American dollar was weak when stacked against the Euro, so I lost an extra quarter for every dollar spent. Conversely, my first trip to Greece corresponded with the 2015 collapse of the Greek marketplace and I could afford to splurge. The moral of the story: timing is everything. It’s imperative that you plan destinations strategically, so keep an eye on the global economy to guarantee the best bang for your buck!
If you’re young, travel like it: There are direct flights to Paris, Rome, and London, but good luck finding a one-leg route to Bydgoszcz, Freiburg, or Carmarthen. People are understandably eager to see the great major cities of the world, but backpacking the countryside or touring less popular destinations is easier in your youth. Not only is it cheaper, it gives you a more authentic taste of the national culture. Save the luxury destinations for your adulthood – they’re less taxing and easier to afford when you’re a working professional. Explore cheap buses, trains, and Ryanair flights to save a buck, despite the inconvenience – its money you’ll be glad to have later!
Be socially conscious: America gets mixed reviews in countries across the world – it’s important to remain aware of that. Politically opinionated people you meet in your travels may have some very pointed questions for you, but it’s imperative to never take their criticisms personally. Similarly, it’s important to frame any questions you have about another country in a sensitive and impartial way – you don’t want to offend a family that’s hosting you or the friends you meet in a hostel. And remember, your actions also represent the United States as a whole – be on your best behavior and do your research to be sure your “friendly” behaviors are actually perceived as friendly in your host country.
Just eat the snails: You’re going to find yourself exposed to things that you’ve never experienced before, whether it’s strange foods, social situations, or even squatty-potties (Morocco – ‘nuff said). Some of them will make you feel unsafe, others will make you feel uncomfortable. My advice to you? JUST DO IT. Remember why you traveled in the first place – you didn’t fly halfway around the world to NOT eat escargot, so stop thinking about it and open up! (For the record, escargot is fantastique.)
Reverse culture shock: A lot of people prepare you for the strange things you may experience abroad, but far too few prepare you for the strange things you’ll experience when you return to the USA. Reverse culture shock is very real. Going from six months of adventures to your normal life is often accompanied with crippling depression and feelings of isolation. After all, you may be excited to see old friends again, but they just had six months of change without you. Maybe they got a haircut and look totally different, or broke up with their long-time significant other. A lot can change while you’re gone and it’s hard not to feel disoriented. Just remember two important things: 1) reverse culture shock WILL happen, so expect it, and 2) you can always go back to your destinations again, so don’t feel like the adventure is “over” – it can be helpful to begin planning your next trip as soon as you return, even if its 2 years in advance. It’s good to have another exciting experience to look forward to while you readjust to America.”
Aimee Ballew Hall, French Professor at Mountain Heritage High School and the person who made me discover my passion for languages. I owe my B.A in French to her! Here is her advice for Americans traveling in Europe:
- Make an effort to speak the country’s native language
“I don’t speak Spanish, but in Spain, I was determined that I would certainly not use English, so I used the words for please and thank you to order food, etc., or I would have my son communicate for me. In one restaurant, a fellow diner asked if the waiter spoke English, and he answered “no”. I ordered “agua” for my drink. And yet, I heard another American traveler order the same beverage using the English word “water”. I really couldn’t believe my ears, as it was so easy to just say “agua”. I felt embarrassed, as I feel that it’s episodes like this one that give Americans a bad reputation. On the flip side, if this man had come to America and ordered water using the Spanish term, his server would have been annoyed and perplexed I think…”
- Be aware that you are traveling to Europe for its unique culture(s) and not to have everything mirror that of America
“One often hears Americans complain about various ‘inconveniences’ they encounter in Europe, one being the limited number of public restrooms. Complaints such as these communicate the belief that Europe is merely an American vacation spot – not a multicultural continent where people live and work. Some American travelers would be better served by taking a cruise and limiting their exposure to the locals, or perhaps simply visiting Disney World’s Epcot Center. If one is unable or unwilling to appreciate the way of life and history of a different culture (and see what lies beyond the ‘inconveniences’), one would also have a limited ability to appreciate the monuments and historical sites in the area. I would simply advise Americans to choose their travel destinations for the right reasons, lest they and our European friends experience frustration and disappointment.”
⇒⇒⇒ Mrs. Hall’s travel tips are definitely ones that hit home. Oftentimes while we were living in France I was very frustrated with my own nationality. I could blatantly see why America had often been the target for criticism, and it only becomes emphasized with the American tourists in Europe. It’s so important to be open-minded and willing to try new things, even if it just means badly pronouncing one word in Spanish, French, German, etc., the locals will really appreciate your efforts! ⇐⇐⇐
Marshall Bennett – Also lived in Angers, France for six months and has traveled to the following European countries: Ireland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Greece, Poland, Estonia, and Spain.
Check out Marshall’s indispensable Europe travel tips for Americans!
“Save Money, Spend Time
Traveling within Europe is much cheaper and easier than in the US, so budget well and you can stretch your money for a longer period of time than you thought. I always get nervous about spending too much money while traveling, but with cheap travel on buses and airlines like RyanAir, coupled with cheap lodging in hostels, you can find ways to truly stretch your dollar (or euro).
Make friends in other countries
Having someone to talk to about their perspective on the world, their country, and your own country will never cease to bore me, I am always intrigued by learning about different cultures. Foreign friends are also a great way to save money, ask to visit them and if they will be gracious enough to let you stay at their place. I had an easier time doing this because I made such great friends over the course of a semester while studying abroad, several of whom I visited on my recent trip to Europe, but you can just as easily make a good friend with someone you meet one night in a hostel. In Poland, I stayed with my friend’s family, who prepared meals for us every night, along with multiple shots of Polish vodka. That same Polish friend visited me in the US last year, and she was able to stay with my mom and me while she was here, so it’s a great way to stay in touch and really connect with your friend and their culture.
If you’re traveling for a long time, take breaks from your group
Traveling with Gray and Oscar this summer was the perfect travel group. All three of us love experiencing the nightlife of any city we visit, but we’re also just as comfortable spending hours in an art museum and discussing the art, and at the same time we’re all totally fine with hiking up a mountain to spend all day up there and have a picnic. If you’re spending a long period of time on your trip, I would suggest breaking off into smaller groups or maybe even try going off on your own, because even though they may be your best friends, spending too much time in such close quarters with your travel companions is bound to start creating some friction. This past summer I built in a separate trip to Estonia, while Gray and Oscar went to Germany, Prague, Lyon, and Barcelona, and we met back up in Spain after about a week.
Don’t try to do too much
I think one of the biggest traps travelers fall into is trying to see everything a city has to offer. With a city as large as Paris or London, it’s literally impossible to see everything. But even with smaller cities, my advice is to take your time, go see one or two touristy places each day, and then spend the rest of the day just relaxing near a river, or people watching outside of a bustling café in the city center. Traveling is about enjoyment, so do what you enjoy and don’t rush your experience.
Experiment with the amount of pre-planning you do
I am a planner. I like to know exactly where I’m going and how to get there. I look up Google street-views of the places I’m going so I know how to navigate them before I get there. Gray, on the other hand, prefers to go with the flow and make changes to our plans, which I do occasionally find thrilling, if not sometimes nerve-wracking. I think it can be fun to just pick a city, and maybe just book a hostel for the first night, but leave the rest up to spontaneity once you get there. You may meet a fellow traveler who has just come from a different city in that country that is much better than the one you’re in. If you had booked the hostel for several days, you might be stuck, but if you’re more adventurous, you can go explore the other city. If you’re traveling to multiple destinations, my advice is to pick one location where you do this, just to figure out if you’re comfortable with it or not.”
⇒⇒⇒ I love the diverse perspective that Marshall’s travel tips offer in comparison to my own. Personally, I am more of the “just wing it” type of traveler, but after consulting with Marshall on his travel tips, I definitely see how being a planner can positively influence your travel plans! Also, Marshall’s last tip hits the nail on the head. Especially if this is your first time to Europe or backpacking/traveling in general, then experiment a little and see which travel style fits you best! Also, yes yes yes for cheap European travel! I once traveled from Lyon, France to Barcelona, Spain for 18 euros (roundtrip). An equally cheap bus company that we used heavily on our backpacking trip through Europe is Megabus. Crazy cheap, safe, and comfy! This company is also in the U.S and Paul and his brother booked buses for less than 5 bucks to travel long distances in between huge cities like New York and Chicago! That’s actually how we discovered Megabus was in Europe, too! ⇐⇐⇐
Brooke, Lived in Paris, France for six months, has traveled to Switzerland + parts of France (and is married to a Frenchman). 😉 Here are her Europe travel tips for Americans:
Diversify where you keep your valuables
“The first one I can think of is a cross body bag that zips completely closed and don’t keep your money, passport, and cell phone all in the same place. My cousin had her purse nabbed at the St. Paddy’s Day parade in Dublin and lost everything because she had it all in her purse.”
Be smart about which clothes you take
“I’d recommend taking clothes you can layer and re-wear in different combinations because that saves room in your suitcase. I didn’t really do this but I should have – and that’s wearing neutral colors and a good amount of black. It keeps you from standing out as a tourist/target for pick pockets.
Keep in mind you’ll bring back souvenirs and you’ll need space for that. Someone recommended packing your stuff in the smallest suitcase possible then put it inside a larger, empty suitcase so when you come home you have two suitcases for all the stuff you’ll buy, plus your clothes and toiletries and stuff.
Also something I wouldn’t have considered is not to bring high heels because so many roads are cobblestone and you’ll break your leg or neck…I wore wedges one time and it was a total nightmare.”
Spend your time doing what you really wanted to do, even if it’s off the beaten path
“If you’re only going to get to spend a limited amount of time in a city, you should plan ahead what monuments/museums you definitely want to see while you’re there and skip going to places that don’t matter as much to you. That way you won’t be rushed and can enjoy the places you’ve looked forward to seeing more. I always recommend that people not waste time climbing the Eiffel Tower because it takes so much time they could spend doing other stuff.”
Try new ways to see a city
“I haven’t done this but I’ve heard great things about Couch surfing and would recommend it because your host can show you the city from a native’s perspective and you’ll learn the culture in a way you can’t from taking a tour.”
One last piece of advice
“Oh I would also learn the phrase, “Do you speak English?” in the language of whatever country you’re visiting.”
⇒⇒⇒ Words of wisdom that derives from first hand experience. Everyone should definitely take her word on the high heels tip! I’ve had some near-sidewalk-face-plant experiences trying to be fancy in high heels on cobble streets as well. And just to quickly add – yes Couch surfing is an amazing way to discover the culture and city of a country. Do your best research and plan ahead (just a little!) if you can in order not to miss out on some great hosts! Read more about Couch surfing in my article on The Cost of Backpacking through Europe. ⇐⇐⇐
and last but not least….travel tips from…
The Sneller Sisters, (Laurin and myself) combined have traveled in the following European countries: France, UK, Ireland*, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal*, Spain*, and Greece. I also lived in Chambéry and Lyon, France from May 2013-May 2014.
*Countries not a part of our Summer 2014 Eurotrip itinerary.
Here are some final Europe travel tips for Americans. Most of my friends above have already laid out some really awesome advice, but here are a few things my sister and I wanted to share (quirky travel tips left unsaid).
- Don’t jump on a bus immediately after arriving in a country where the vast majority does not speak English.
One of the most hilarious moments of our backpacking trip happened when we arrived in Czech Republic. We just got out of the train station a little ways from Prague. Hardly anything was written in English. The metro, street signs, bus schedule, everything was foreign to us. We saw a bus number that potentially looked like it could be ours. It didn’t seem to be stopping for long so we ran over and Paul and I jumped into two different doors. When we looked at each other as the doors quickly closed shut, our eyes bulged as we realized one of us was missing. My sister was stuck outside the now closed bus doors and the bus had already started moving. I saw the terror in her eyes as we were about to leave her stranded in a foreign, unknown city. Not to mention none of us had working phones or any emergency secret code so we could find each other if anything ever did happen. We started screaming and shouting at the bus driver, who very angrily started yelling at us in jumbled up words to get the heck off his bus. He slammed the brakes and opened the doors, “shooing” us out as we hopped off. Everyone (20-30 people) who was standing under the shade waiting for the proper bus, was staring at us like “Wow…” It was quite humiliating, but we were so tickled by what just happened we couldn’t stop laughing for a long enough moment to even notice their taunting glares.
- Improvise in times of need
When in Rome, right? I’ll keep this one short. The day we arrived in Rome we had planned to visit the famous Vatican. It was mid June so we hadn’t really prepared for long pants and long sleeves, but we should have. When we arrived we were denied entrance due to our shorts and tanks. We had two sweaters in our backpacks, luckily enough. Our hotel room was too far to go back and try again, so we had to improvise with what we had. Ten minutes later we smiled as we walked past the same guard who had just denied us entrance, he was smiling back in approval as if our “rearranging of clothes” was just clever enough so he couldn’t possibly deny us a second time. Our tank tops turned into long pink and purple skirts, with black and green long sleeves on top. We looked hideous, but it was worth it. So don’t forget to cover up!
- Don’t fall victim to “here, a nice rose for you”
In Venice, my sister was unaware that being offered a rose doesn’t come without a price. Those darn romantic Italians. Anyways, I saw the action happening in slow motion, so I ran over and loudly said “No, thank you!” to the man trying to get her to take it so she would have to pay, while pushing my sister’s arm away. She was temporarily very confused. ^^
To shortly summarize, here is the list of travel tips kindly given by friends Gray, Aimee, Marshall, and Brooke.
- Timing and destinations
- If you’re young, travel like it
- Be socially conscious
- Reverse culture shock
- Make an effort to speak the country’s native language
- Be aware that you are traveling to Europe for its unique culture(s) and not to have everything mirror that of America
- Save Money, Spend Time
- Make friends in other countries
- If you’re traveling for a long time, take breaks from your group
- Don’t try to do too much
- Experiment with the amount of pre-planning you do
- Diversify where you keep your valuables
- Be smart about which clothes you take
- Spend your time doing what you really wanted to do, even if it’s off the beaten path
- Try new ways to see a city
Special thanks to…
Gray S., Aimee H., Marshall B., and Brooke for their WONDERFUL contributions! Thank you all so very much for taking the time to co-author this post! Lastly, thanks to my sister Laurin for reminding me of all the good, bad, and hilarious times we had backpacking across Europe!