While travelling through Europe, I ask fellow “roadies” for their top 3 savvy traveller tips for travel in Europe. After much research and consensus-building, here are 7 (more!) savvy traveller tips to add to your arsenal.
If you are looking for tips on travel with tots, read 7 survival skills for travel with kids to get solutions we’ve discovered on the road. :)
1. Exchange money 1-2 weeks before leaving home sweet home.
While you will find a plethora of exchange boutiques in airports, train or metro stations, on the streets, etc., you will enjoy the most favorable exchange rates at your home bank. Be sure to call ahead to be sure your bank supplies/exchanges euro. Then take the money you wish to exchange directly to your bank branch. Also make certain you give your bank ample time–typically between 3-7 business days–to perform the transaction. Banks typically need ample time to request foreign currency since they do not keep it on-hand at every branch.
2. Most major train or metro stations in Europe have lockers where you may store your bags if you don’t want to schlep them around as you see the sights.
Small, medium, large – lockers come in all sizes. You’ll find them by walking into the train station (aka gare in French, bahnhof in German) and asking a representative at the Information window where they are located. Lockers typically cost 2 euro or more – be sure to get exact change. You put in the change, lock the door to secure your belongings, and remove the key.
Note to Self: do not lose said key. It costs up to 50 euro to replace and recover your belongings (says “That-Girl-Who-Lost-Her-Locker-Key”).
3. Seek information from helpful resources within the city and/or country you’re visiting. Follow what the signs and city maps are telling you.
If you see them, read the signs. Several popular venues will also have free or low-cost city maps. Both signs and maps are your friends. They have answers to your questions. In lieu of maps or signs, walk to the nearest train station, metro station, bus station, Visitor (Information) Center, Tourist Center, major international bank, major hotel, police station, hospital, or medical center. People working at each of these places are most likely to speak your native language, help you find your way, answer any questions you have, or point you to someone who can. A little-known resource I’ve uncovered as well? Tour bus guides have all the answers – seems obvious, right?! You’re welcome. ;)
4. Simplify. Pack only lighter bags you can carry easily.
Europe is not well-equipped with ramps, elevators, escalators or other means of transporting heavy luggage up and down to get from point-to-point. Mark my words (and review my post 7 savvy traveler tips!): you will heartily regret bringing more than 50 pounds of stuff when you have to carry it or lug it around up and down all the stairs you’ll find. Indeed, Europe remains a unique continent that preserves certain traditions.
5. Heed the 3 Rules of the Road in Europe: transport, accommodations, sights.
Whenever possible, arrange all three ahead of time – particularly for Summer travel. Globetrotter tip: Europeans prefer to take their “holiday” (aka “vacation time”) in Summer, too. Expect longer queues, more crowds at popular attractions, higher prices and some preferred venues being sold out. Your best bet? Either travel in off-peak seasons or pre-book your transport, accommodations and sightseeing adventures 9-12 months in advance. You’ll enjoy lower prices, better accommodations and not so many sell-outs with either option.
6. Choose wisely when purchasing travel by train within Europe.
Eurail passes are not the only option for train travel. In fact, point-to-point tickets between European cities are often less expensive, depending on which cities you choose. Best bet? Walk in to the nearest major train station, and hit the International ticketing desk. Have the agent research pricing for the cities you’re planning to travel.
Globetrotter Tip: have your rough itinerary including dates/times of day, preferred seating class and cities you wish to visit written out ahead of time. This process saves you time and earns extra patience points from the ticketing agent at the Reservations counter.
Caveat: Only non-European citizens may purchase Eurail passes to travel in Europe. European citizens must purchase Interrail passes to travel within Europe.
7. French is the Mother Language of Europe. Carry a French dictionary (either digital or physical), so you’ll be able to converse on-the-fly.
Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are highly-effective language learning programs. I’ve used each to learn Korean and French, and recommend them.
But let’s Talk Turkey: you will benefit from knowing the following phrases in French:
“Where are the bathrooms?” Où sont les toilettes?
“Where is a good (inexpensive) restaurant?” Où est un bon restaurant (peu coûteux)?
“How do I get to the nearest major train station from here?” Comment puis-je obtenir à la gare la plus proche d’ici?
“Where is the nearest Metro station?” Où est la station de métro la plus proche?
“Where is the nearest hotel/bed & breakfast/youth hostel?” Où est l’hôtel / bed & breakfast / d’auberge de jeunesse la plus proche?
“Where is the nearest bank?” Où est la banque la plus proche?
“Where is the nearest hospital?” Où est l’hôpital le plus proche?
“Where is the nearest police station?” Où est le poste de police le plus proche?
“Where is the [fill in your country of origin] embassy?” Où est le [remplir dans votre pays d’origine] ambassade?
Hope these tips help you most enjoy your European travel. Please be sure to add whatever tips you know in Comments below. Thanks for reading.
See you On the Road!
Helpful Resources to Plan Travel in Europe
Eurail – you may wish to purchase a Eurail pass if travelling between several countries. Remember: only non-European citizens may purchase/use Eurail passes.
Interrail – European citizens may purchase point-to-point train tickets or use an Interrail Global Pass to travel between countries in Europe.
Song du Jour: New Shoes by Paolo Nutini