europe travel tips to know before you go
That good old Facebook memory reminded me this week of my very first trip to Europe, almost 8 years ago to be exact. Yes, EIGHT whole years! Can someone please tell me how time flies by so blinking fast?! I was exposed to some horrific photos of me being a complete and utter liability sailing around the party islands of magical Croatia, eating my bodyweight in lip smacking Italian pizza and gelato near the Colosseum in Rome, and a cringy status update or two that I’d rather not treat you too added to the mix. I was reminded of all the ridiculously good times, questionable decisions that were made, and valuable tips I learnt along the way. Tips I wish someone had enlightened me on before I set off to travel Europe, the beast of a continent home to a whopping 50 countries. I thought I’d wrangle up this first timers guide, to give you the low down on all the Europe travel tips to know before you go.
That time of year has rolled around again where what seems to be every person under the sun is jet setting off to escape the winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and soak up the summer months in Europe. Europe is every traveller’s dream at some point in their lives, and a sweet sweet gold mine for everyone from dirt cheap minimalist backpackers, to the richie riches amongst us all. Day dream at the white and blue domes of the Greek Islands, roam the history filled cobblestone streets of Prague, mesmerise on the mountain tops of the Swiss Alps, realize your inner romantic at the fairytale castles of Portugal, relax on the sun drenched beaches hugging the Mediterranean sea, gawk at the dazzling lights of the Eiffel Tower, devour in the rich Spanish cuisine of paella and tapas, get lost in the alleyways under the buzzing red lights and smoke filled coffee shops of Amsterdam, bike along the rolling hills amongst the vineyards in Tuscany, take a cheesy snap using your muscles to hold up that leaning tower of Pisa, AND wash down bratwursts by chugging on an obscene amount of mouthwatering German beer at Oktoberfest. Clearly, the diversity of Europe is utterly endless.
After spending a heap of time living in London and being able to pop back and forth into Europe whenever the wind blew me, I lay my eyes on some of the most iconic sights in the world and indulged in some of the most epic scenery there has ever been. I explored where no one knew me, where I couldn’t recognise the menu, and countries as far away from the motherland as I could get. Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone is an epic journey in it’s self.
If you’re reading this then its likely you’re planning a trip to Europe, Europe has once upon a time been on your mind, or, your down right curiosity lead you here. So to make your trip just that wee bit less overwhelming, keep reading for my top Europe travel tips to know before you go.
EUROPE TRAVEL TIPS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEYYY
The main majority of Europe uses the Euro, the second most used currency in the entire world. However annoyingly, a few countries don’t. Some of the most popular countries that have their own currency are Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Denmark, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and of course, the United Kingdom. Your safest bet is to double check on the currency depending on where your pretty little head is travelling.
CAN I EVEN AFFORD EUROPE?
Europe is definitely not the cheapest pick of the bunch, let me tell you that straight up. Costs can rack up pretty quick. However, who’s to say you can’t get through Europe backpacking on a shoestring?! Not me, at least.
A FEW WISE TIPS TO SAVE THAT CASH MONEY
Choose cheaper cities to explore- think Budapest, Krakow and Bucharest in Eastern Europe. All commonly known for being cheap as chips.
Travel off season (November- March) for more affordable accommodation and cheaper airfares. Not to mention shorter queues at attractions (you’d be silly to say no to that), and you’ll have more chance of mingling with the locals rather than a squillion other tourists.
Book in advance to try your luck scoring next to nothing bus tickets to hoon around on.
Travel with carry on to save on extra luggage fees.
HOW TO CARRY MONEY?
Cash Passports (travel money cards) are a god send, the safest and my most preferred way to carry money in Europe. It’s always wise to exchange some cash before arriving into Europe to have handy though, you may not find an ATM and will need cash for transport from the airport. If you’re travelling between countries that have different currencies, use up all your coins on knick knacks and snacks before leaving. You can’t exchange coins so they’re deemed worthless after exiting the country.
Don’t mind the shocking photos courtesy of my old school brick of a camera!
WHERE TO GO
HOW ON EARTH DO I CHOOSE WHICH COUNTRIES TO TRAVEL?!
This is a valid question, after all we are talking about a whole damn continent here. Plus, there is no way on earth you’ll get through the whole lot in one go.
To get the ball rolling ask yourself what you’re looking for in a country. What do you enjoy? Why do you want to go there? Do you actually want to see something in particular, or are you solely choosing a country because it’ll make you look ‘cool’. Don’t just go where the crowds are going, think wisely about where you want to spend your time and hard earned money. Do you prefer beaches or mountains? Hefty hikes or leisurely strolls? Buzzing cities or quaint, historic towns? Are you a raging foodie- do you froth festivals? There is only so many similar cathedrals you can see (trust me, Europe has a lot of them), so spice it up and make the most of Europe’s diversity.
Narrow it down to your top five or so and then connect the dots with transport, and hey presto, you’ve got yourself some sort of plan!
It’s tempting to rush around quicker than a wink to try and squeeze in all the countries, but I guarantee you’ll get overwhelmed and burnt out. I know personally I’d rather actually see a place than ‘tick’ off a country just to say you’ve been there. Remember, you can always go back!
So you’ve decided where in Europe you want to go, now what? How about checking how you can actually enter a country. Lucky for us New Zealand passport holders we can spend up to three months visa-free, within a six month period, throughout the majority of European countries– the 26 countries in the ‘Schengen Area’. Super easy and hassle free! Peeps from Australia, North America and South America have the same freedom, where as those from Asia or Africa require a visa.
Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova are the only countries in Europe that require Kiwis to have a visa for a stay less than three months. Where is Moldova you may ask? Wouldn’t have a clue mate.
HOW TO TRAVEL AROUND
TOUR OR NO TOUR? RAIL, BUS, OR FLIGHT?
Europe is full of well-connected cities and reliable public transport, making it easy peasy to do on your own. Sure, a little overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be travelling around like there’s no tomorrow.
Busabout is a hop on hop off bus service that I highly recommend! There are different routes that go all over the show and you simply hop on and off wherever you damn well please. An affordable, flexible way to scoot around. It’s a great way to meet other travellers who may be going the same route as you, plus, they provide recommendations on accommodation which can be super helpful. You can score some ridiculously cheap tickets for single bus trips through FlixBus, EuroLines, or MegaBus too (if you’re coming from the UK)- I got from London to Paris for 5GBP once!
All this said, if you really just cannot be bothered planning, are travelling solo and want guaranteed travel buddies, or want a more structured itinerary to see as much as possible- then tours no doubt come in handy!
St Christophers, Generator and Wombats are all popular hostel chains with multiple locations around the continent- all of which I’ve stayed at and have never been disappointed! Looking at the location of your backpacker’s is a biggie in Europe as most cities are wide spread. Choose one as close to the centre as possible (which usually equals close to attractions). This will mean you can walk everywhere, saving you money on transport- especially when you’ve had one too many alcoholic beverages and need to get yourself to bed quick smart!
You’ll always need to show your passport for every place you stay, so keep it handy.
Europe as a whole is safe, yes! So much so the continent is a great choice for a first time traveller.
Saying this, Europe is notorious for pick pockets so keep an extra careful eye on your bag, especially when you’re crammed in a crowd or awe struck at a popular attraction. Check out my post on solo travel tips for more tips that could come in handy to keep you safe in Europe- like always wearing your bag across your body! When it comes to pick pocketing, if you’re a tourist, you fit the bill.
You’ll more than likely get short changed at one point or an other, so get into the habit of counting your change after paying.
Travel insurance is a grand idea and will help you feel just that little bit more safe and at ease knowing you have that to fall back on- fingers crossed you won’t need it.
A FEW EXTRA REAL AND RAW TRAVEL TIPS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The power plug used in Europe is Type C– 2 round prongs, with the exception of UK having it’s own plug with three square prongs.
Don’t expect everything to look postcard perfect. The hype is real in Europe and what you see in other peoples snaps isn’t always reality behind the camera – not to say the majority of places aren’t incredible however!
The language barrier in Europe in general isn’t too much of a problem. Locals are so used to foreigners that they’ve picked up an English word or two, making it easy to converse.
Head to the supermarket and pack a picnic to save money on stupidly over priced restaurants! Europe is full of huge, stunning parks to laze about in.
Pack comfy walking shoes, in a backpack– not a suitcase! These two go hand in hand because the amount of bumpy cobblestone streets and stairs in Europe mean shitty shoes and wheelie suitcases are not ideal.
Dinner in Europe is always late. Or, maybe we just have it early? Lord knows.
Keep coins handy, you may have to pay to use the bathroom.
Come afternoon time in Southern Europe the traditional Spanish siesta will be in full swing. Meaning everyone will shut up shop to have a wee nap in the arvo!
And last but certainly not least. I asked my sister (who I’ve done many of my Europe adventures with) what she wishes someone had told her about before her first trip to Europe. Her reply, “I wish I knew earlier about that 5 litre bottle of wine you could buy in Greece so we could have started drinking that on the first day!” HAHA. One to add to the books, surely. What she is referring to is a hefty bottle of what looks like cooking oil, and what is possibly the most rankest thing I have ever consumed. That guys, is my sister wrapped in a nutshell.
The epitome of a head over heels travel destination, you simply can’t go wrong choosing Europe for your next adventure.
Go on, get lost in the maze of thousands of year old history, and relax in a slice of earths most idyllic paradise!
I hope you learnt a thing or two with these Europe travel tips to know before you go. Let me know if you manage to put any of these bad boys to good use!
Thanks for reading,
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