December 1st, 2010


10 Travel Tips for Americans in Europe

I'm no Rick Steves but I've got European traveling down and from my experience, here are a few tips (mostly for Americans):

  1. Don't pack more than you can carry. You can survive 10 days in Europe on one carry-on backpack and a small purse or courier bag.

  2. If you plan on doing major shopping, check an extra bag on the way over. Then when it's time to fly back, put all your manky travel clothes in the extra bag and put all your precious gifts (except for liquids) in your regular carry-on luggage. If you've bought alcohol, shampoo, etc., you can put that in the checked and it will be well-protected by your dirty laundry.

  3. In many European cities, you barely even need to use the subway, let alone taxis, because you can pretty much walk from place to place. Subway/tram/bus is good if you want to go someplace further out or go across a city and walk back, but most of the time there's no need to take transit. Even in a big city like Munich, Caleb and I often skip the subway and walk across the city a few times a day. Bologna, a smaller city, has buses running everywhere but we saw the whole inner city without using them at all.

  4. Despite No. 3 above, do of course remember to take transit! There are great deals for single runs, day passes, zone passes, rail-and-subway combos, etc. Like say 7 Euros and ride all you want.

  5. Look out for regional all-transit passes. You can sometimes get a pass that will let you ride all day, all systems. Example, in Munich Caleb and I got a "Bayern Ticket" which allowed a "family" (of 2) to travel from Munich to Augsburg & back, plus ride Munich subway any other time that day, unlimited. Only stipulation is no riding faster trains but even regular train was pretty fast, so big deal. Total cost was around $30 I think.

  6. If you're paying more than 1.50 Euro for a coffee/cappuccino/espresso/etc., you are being ripped off, probably by a place that rips off American tourists or is in fact an American chain.

  7. Check out the department stores - you'll be surprised at all the awesome you'll find. I'm big on department stores even in the U.S., where they're dying, but I love European department stores. Go there and you'll find both styles and deals on things you can't get at home or can't get without paying 5x the price. Examples: Cooking/baking supplies (knives, gadgets, pasta makers), fashion tights, stockings, holiday decorations, all kinds of food, chocolate, makeup. In Germany I shop at Galleria Kaufhof and Karstadt, while in Italy there's Upim, Coin and a few others. (England is a different matter, as things are freakin' expensive there, but dept. stores still worth a look, esp. there are sales or you're looking for something where market is competitive and prices lower.)

  8. Always say hello when you enter a cafe/shop/restaurant etc. - in the local language. This politeness will bring you better service and keep people from thinking you're a selfish jerk tourist. Also, depending on how much of the language you speak, it can open up lines of conversation. When making purchases, use please and thank you a lot - you'll be less likely to get rude service, believe me! Also say goodbye when you leave, even if you haven't bought anything, as again it's polite and also lets them know you didn't just shoplift them - which slipping out without saying anythign implies.

  9. Why eat out when you can make your own meals by shopping for food yourself? Even if you're staying at a hotel (as opposed to staying with locals), you can put together breakfasts and lunches easily shopping at grocery stores, bread shops, little markets, etc.  Example lunch could be delicious fresh rolls with cheese, meat spread, sliced tomato, plus a yogurt, piece of fruit, and to drink milk, juice, soda, or a cheap coffee. Two people can get all they need for 6-7 Euros or cheaper, no problem.

  10. Make friends in Europe and when visiting, stay with them. I've been doing this since my first visit to Europe and it's the best way, really. Keep up communications with people you know from LJ, fandoms, school, etc., and even if you don't "know" a person super well, you can often manage to get a chance to stay with them for a visit. And then you will get to know them much better. A few tips for staying with these generous friends: 1) bring gifts - food, hard-to-find medications, books, whatever they want, 2) don't ever make a mess, 3) offer to cook dinner and/or take them out during your stay, 4) when out shopping, bring them alcohol, and 5) take advantage of locals' knowledge and find out where to visit. Depending on the person's schedule, they might go out with you or they might give tips and directions and have to go to work. But do ask! Caleb and I found out about the Fuggerei in Augsburg, one of the best things we visited on our trip, from a tip from Martina.

BTW, all these tips come from the school of thought that says don't travel like an ugly American with huge suitcases, don't do package tours, skip ultra fancy hotels, don't rent a car, avoid tourist restaurants, etc. Vacations are so much cheaper and so much more of a real experience without encasing yourself in a fake bubble.

The "Take"

Yes, here it is, the "traditional" round-up of all the goodies I bought home from my vacation. A couple of items have been obfuscated or left out b/c they're gifts and I don't want to completely ruin the surprise.

From Germany

10 pairs patterned fashion tights
5 pairs plain black tights
1 disco ball necklace (H&M)
1 pair black lace gloves (H&M)
1 pair black gloves
2 packets Dr. Oetker pudding mix
2 packets Griesbrei mix
1 canister artificial sweetener tablets
1 bag Katjes Kinder licorice cats
4 wooden cutting boards
1 box Speculatius cookies
1 Harry Potter Book 7 German audiobook MP3s

From Italy

4 packages various licorices
1 bag gourmet anise liqueur filled chocolate balls
2 boxes Leone pastiles
1 instant hazelnut cake mix
1 bar torrone
1 gourmet chocolate bar
1 dress (OVS Industries)