I began writing this list with the intent of giving my readers a list of the top 10 biggest mistakes. Then I realized that I had way too much to say (are you surprised?) and changed it to the top 15 mistakes because we can always use a little bit more help. I couldn’t just stop at 10!
For those of you who are searching for the perfect time to go to Europe, check out Skyscanner for some of the best prices for flights. If you don’t know where within Europe you want to go, use the “everywhere” search function to find the travel location that works the best for you.
But what are some of the biggest mistakes? Europe is made up of a multitude of cultures but so much of it is similar. How do they do it? Why is Europe still so incredible? I don’t have the answer to those questions, but I do have the answer as to what some of the biggest mistakes are.
Not Carrying Cash
One great thing about America is that credit and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere. Whether it is a small mom-and-pop store or a huge Costco store, paying with a card is simple and easy. Conversely, Europe is not the same card-oriented society. The best thing to do while traveling in Europe is to always have cash on you. Although airport exchange rates are not the best, it’s usually beneficial to have a little bit of cash on hand to pay for your transportation from the airport to the hotel. Additionally, any small stands, shops, and food places will likely only accept cash.
Using Any Regular Credit Card
Since we’re on the topic of cards vs. cash, it is important to realize that not all cards will even be accepted by European banks. The chip cards that are beginning to gain popularity in the U.S. are already commonplace throughout Europe. During a year of living in Germany, I never once encountered a machine that allowed me to swipe. If you are nervous about getting the card you need, just call your bank and explain that you need a card that has a chip on it. They will be very understanding and will likely ship you a new card without any additional charge.
Forgetting the Value of the Euro
On my very first trip to Europe, my dad lectured me the entire time about how the Euro and the American dollar were not worth the same. Even though I stopped listening (typical teenager), he did have good advice. It’s easy for some travelers to forget that the Euro isn’t the same as other currencies around the world. Even though it might be close in value, that small percentage of extra money can add up over a long time. Calculating the currency difference before making purchases could possibly help you avoid a shock at the end of your trip.
Assuming Water is Free
Western Europe is very fortunate because most of the water is safe to drink. Unfortunately, drinking tap water at a restaurant is practically unheard of. If you ask for water at a restaurant, expect it to come in a bottle and be fairly expensive. There’s a reason many Europeans drink beer at their meals – it truly is cheaper than water! If you carry around a reusable bottle, typically the tap water can be safe in the bathrooms. I’ve certainly taken advantage of that more than once. Some places will give you tap water if you ask for it but don’t be surprised if they look at you like you’re growing a third arm!
Thinking Public Restrooms are Free
The year was 2005, and I was in Europe for the first time. Like any girl, my bladder was always in need of finding a bathroom. But when I went to the restroom, I was shocked to find someone sitting outside, demanding money. Thankfully, my mom was there to give him a few Euros. I’ll never forget my first time having to pay for a restroom. It shocked me, but prepared me for when I lived in Germany. Most public restrooms require you to pay a small fee. Sometimes there will even be an attendant sitting out in front collecting money. Other times, there will just be a cup for change. In train stations, the restrooms are frequently barricaded behind automatic machines that require you to pay a small fee before the doors will open. The best way to prevent an awkward encounter at the restroom is to keep small change on you so that you can pay the attendant. You won’t always need to pay, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Expecting to Receive Still Water
For some reason that I cannot fathom, Europeans prefer sparkling water to regular, fresh-from-the-earth water. So when ordering water, be sure to specify that you would like still water or water without gas. It will save you from being forced to drink (and pay) for something you don’t really want. The same principle goes for purchasing water at supermarkets or while on the road. Most of the time the bottles will be labeled as still or sparkling. When in doubt, shake the bottle to see if there are little gas bubbles inside!
Not Bringing Proper Adapters
Ah, the dreaded adapter/converter debate. It seems as though everywhere you search, someone is telling you to bring converters and adapters to avoid frying your electronics. You’ll be hearing the same story from me. Converters and adapters are serious and if you don’t bring the correct one, you could be in a lot of trouble. Most of Western Europe has the same plugs, whereas the UK and Ireland have different types of adapters. An adapter will only change the prongs, whereas the converters will convert the voltage. If bringing a hair curler or flatiron is crucial to your European vacation, just wait and purchase a cheap one once you arrive. The online horror stories of people frying their hair or blowing a fuse to the whole building are true, and you don’t want to have any of that happen.
When I lived in Europe with my best friend, we enjoyed a fun game every morning at our favorite café – Spot the Foreigner. Nine times out of 10, we could hear foreigners coming from a mile away. I hate to say it, but the Americans are the worst! I think something about the American accent just pierces through the air and calls attention to them. Regardless, the best thing to do while in Europe is listen to the people around you. If they are louder and more animated (I’m looking at you, Italians), then feel free to blend into your surroundings. But in some countries, like Germany, people typically aren’t overly loud and affectionate in public. That’s the great thing about traveling. You can observe the habits of the natives and learn to appreciate them in a new light.
Despite the fact that Europe is fairly high up in the Northern Hemisphere, the weather can get pretty warm – especially during the summer. But unlike other warm climates, flip-flops are not worn out in public. Don’t ask me why. They just are just not a part of European culture. Beach cities like Barcelona don’t frown upon flip-flops as much and they are more commonplace. Even then, sandals are your best choice of footwear if you are going for open-toed.
Since we’re on the topic of taboo clothing, I should mention that shorts are not worn in public. If they’re super short shorts, you can forget about it. Wearing shorts will make you stand out like a sore thumb. My solution is to always wear skirts. They are light and airy and give you the feeling of shorts without having to actually wear them. Whatever you do, just don’t wear cargo shorts or white tennis shoes. I beg you.
Overpacking is the bane of my existence. I notoriously wear the same shirt for days at home, but bring 47 backups when I go on a trip. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right? In general, overpacking should be avoided. Not only will it be a pain to lug around, but also hauling your luggage around Europe is exhausting. Lots of buildings don’t have elevators and you might find yourself carrying your heavy suitcases up several flights of stairs. The less you pack, the happier you’ll be. And if you decide that you need more things, you can always indulge in a great souvenir!
Falling for Scams
I want to preface this point by saying that there are tons of friendly people in the world and I don’t mean to scare anybody. However, there are some people who will try to scam you out of money. It’s just a sad reality of travel that you need to be aware of. There are hundreds of types of scams that are used so I won’t bother naming them all. Some of them can be simple, like pretending to be a legitimate taxi when they are imposters. Others can be more complicated, such as tracking you down to your apartment like in Taken. Okay, I’m being a little bit dramatic but sometimes things do happen while traveling. The best thing that you can do is always remain alert and aware of your surroundings.
Eating near tourist attractions
Sometimes after traipsing all around a huge tourist attraction, nothing sounds better than to sit down and eat some incredible food. Dozens of restaurants usually surround major tourist sites, their hosts eagerly standing in front ready to usher you inside. Although choosing one of these conveniently- located restaurants may sound appealing, don’t do it. These restaurants cater exclusively to tourist clientele and are overpriced and not very tasty. Since the majority of their patrons are tourists, the restaurants don’t need to make quality food to keep people coming back. They will feed you something and happily collect your money before sending you on your way. If you venture a little further off of the tourist track, those are where the real gems of restaurants are. Figure out where the locals eat and eat there. Not only will it be cheaper, but also I can guarantee you that the food will taste better.
Staying within your comfort zone
The goal of traveling is to step outside your comfort zone and experience new things. Europe should be no exception. It can be very tempting to travel in the same fashion each time – eat the same food at restaurants, shop around for the same souvenirs, visit the same attractions. Sometimes it’s difficult to venture beyond your comfort zone, but the rewards are completely worth it. So go ahead and try that local dish that you aren’t sure if you’ll like. Don’t be afraid to do something you normally wouldn’t do, because that’s where your best memories are made.
Not researching local culture
While it is sometimes difficult to avoid looking like a tourist, knowing a little bit about your destination can be extremely helpful in the long run. For example, do you know what time of day you can order a cappuccino in Italy? Or what to do when you prost your beers in Germany? It’s reasons like those that not researching your destination can be a HUGE travel mistake.
So there you have it: the top 15 biggest travel mistakes that you can make while in Europe. The best part about this list is some of it is applicable to travel anywhere in the world. But it’s important to remember that Europe is it’s own wonderful mix of cultures and people. So while you might make a few of these mistakes, the best thing you can do is move on and continue to fulfill your wanderlust!