European Travel 101

Updated: Jul 7, 2019

I just returned from an 18 day vacation in Europe and wanted to share some thoughts and pictures with my readers. Some of these thoughts I've accumulated over the years, although all pictures were taken recently. European Travel 101 includes some basic tips on European travel; some are more obvious than others but some may value for future European travel. European Travel 201 is forthcoming and will include more advanced tips based on my knowledge and experience of European travel. Enjoy!


Grocery store in Switzerland, great place for snacks, cheese, fruit and water (if necessary)

While in Europe, have some change in your pocket. Some buses or restrooms request exact change so if it's urgent and you don't have the exact change, you may feel the heat.


In cities with many bikes and bike lanes, just watch the residents to know what roads provide bike trails and what roads require you to share the sidewalk with pedestrians. Do this at least initially to get the feel of things to avoid being cursed at in a foreign language for not using the correct lanes.


Because bathrooms can be scarce in some cities in Europe, utilize the museum bathrooms to freshen up before and after your visit.


I'd recommend having a large lunch instead of dinner, it helps sustain your travel and generally less expensive than the later meal

Splurge on lunch if you can (after touring a museum or a lot of walking in the morning) and skimp on dinner. Many restaurants have a "daily meal" special at lunchtime which will be less expensive than the dinner meal.


European hotels will typically ask if you want breakfast with your stay. If it's 15 to 20 Euros per person, I'd opt out. If your room has a fridge, you could always store bread, cheese, and fruit in there and use this as an early meal before finding a market or grocery store.


Tap water is typically fine to drink in Western Europe (but still ask to be safe). Be more careful in Eastern Europe.


Clean and safe toilets with a small fee

Train stations generally charge for toilets, if possible, utilize the toilets on trains. I was charged 2 Swiss Francs ($2) for using the toilet in the Luzern train station. Good news for train station WC's that charge, they are generally quite clean and user-friendly.


When grocery shopping, have a plastic bag or small backpack available to load your groceries into. You'll avoid the cost of paying for a plastic bag and it helps you blend in with the locals.


Outdoor and indoor restaurant where facilities may be leveraged

Get used to military time in Europe. You may want to set your watch, iPhone or other technology to military time to better understand train and bus schedules. If the museum closes at 20:00, it means 8 pm.


Learn a few words of the local language. If you're traveling to many Europeans countries, your host country doesn't expect you to know much of their language but attempt some basic phrases may endear you to the locals.


Public fountains are invaluable, especially in hot weather with so much walking

When it comes to the weather, realize they report the temperature in Celsius and not Fahrenheit. Know the conversion so you don't have to ask a local what is the temperature in Fahrenheit. To convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, multiply the temperature by 1.8 and then add 32. For example, if it's 30 degrees Celsius in Lyon, France, 30 * 1.8 = 54 plus 32 = 86 degrees Fahrenheit.


Instead of using data on Google or Apple Maps, download these when you have access to Wi-Fi. You can highlight key items such as hotels, museums, train stations, and city landmarks before downloading.


To save money, look for drinkable water as you walk or bike the city. Always have a 20-ounce water bottle or greater available to top off so you stay hydrated, especially in hot weather. If hungry and no stores are around, drink as much water as possible after filling up your water bottle. I believe there's an app to locate public fountains in Europe but haven't tried it myself.


Plenty of bicycles on the Unter den Linden in Berlin

Shop at grocery stores. Once you know your hotel location, you can map out where several grocery stores are located to help save money. Some cities have grocery stores in or near the train station which can allow you to "stock up" on several critical food items during train travel. Stores such as Aldi/Lindl/Edeka in Germany, Migros/Coop/Lidl/Aldi in Switzerland and Carrefour/Coop/Lidl in Italy.


Pack light, pack light, pack light, especially if you're using a suitcase. If you must walk to your hotel, wheeling that suitcase down cobblestone sidewalks and streets can easily wear on the traveling spirit. In addition, there are some hotels without elevators or lifts so if you're carrying a heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs, it can be challenging to some travelers.


The current temperature of this thermometer in Celsius is 28 degrees or 82 degrees Fahrenheit

If you're staying in a hotel for 2 or more days and you've been traveling for a while, do laundry in the sink or shower once you arrive so clothes can dry before moving on. Dryers are uncommon in many parts of Europe and some hotels lack proper ventilation so allowing those clothes to dry in the room or bathroom for a day or two might be your best ticket.


During the planning stage, if there are "museum musts" in a particular city, purchase those tickets ahead of time to avoid standing in line.


Coffee is generally more expensive in Europe than the States and you'll stand out if you ask for a free refill.


A good sturdy umbrella in summer is a must when touring Europe for two reasons: One, you never know when a cold front might come through and in hot weather, an umbrella will help protect you from the long summer sunny days.


Park Hotel Post in Freiburg, Germany. Close to train station and grocery store

Find out from the hotel if the water is drinkable in the city or town you're visiting and if so, when in a restaurant, ask for tap water. They may want to "upsell" you to mineral water (with or without gas) but try to insist on tap water if you can.


Accept the local culture and avoid comparing "Things in Brussels" to how it is back home.


With climate change, it may be best to travel to Europe in the spring or fall. Especially for those over 55 or 60. The forecast for Europe the summer of '19 is a 20 year heat wave so summers may not be the best time to travel to Europe, especially when it's "high season."

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