Heading abroad? These 20 tips for traveling to Europe for the first time will get your prepared for your first trip. One of the most visited destinations in the world, Europe is an ideal first international trip for travelers. I remember my first trip to France to visit family, the feeling of stepping onto a plane and landing in foreign lands. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.
Planning a trip to Europe can be overwhelming and I wanted to shares these tips for traveling to Europe for the first time to help ease any travel anxieties. With a little preparation, you can get everything sorted and not learn the hard way (like I did!).
20 Tips for Traveling to Europe for the First Time
Saving offline maps before you land will save you a headache.
I think the first tip is to always have your maps sorted before you arrive. I recommend starring everything you want to see, where you’re staying, and restaurants on Google Maps and then downloading the map offline. When you arrive and the airport WiFi doesn’t work, you’ll be stoked to have this. Here are 9 things I do before every international trip.
Electrical plug converters are a necessity.
I always bring a world converter with me wherever I travel as Europe has a few different plugs The UK outlets are different from France for instance. Luckily most airports always sell these but I try to always remember to bring mine with. It’s also good to note that Europe runs on 220v vs 110v like ours, most Apple products/cameras will have built in converters, but your hairdryer and curling iron will most likely blow a fuse.
Hotel rooms are smaller than the US and bed sizes can be confusing.
I think the number one complaint I’ve heard is how the rooms were uber small and the beds weren’t what they booked. Yes rooms are smaller, if it’s a concern, booking with a chain hotel may be in your favor. When they say queen/king beds, it’s more often two single beds pushed together — I’d call and clarify if it’s top concern.
Airbnbs are a great way to save money and be in the best location.
You’ll find the top hotels in the best locations will often be incredibly pricey. I’d recommend poking around Airbnb and seeing if you can find one in the same area. Checkout these 10 Airbnbs in Paris with a view!
Bottled water is extra, so be sure to clarify with your server.
Let’s just say one time we spent $30 in water in Switzerland. When they offer water, be sure to clarify that you want tap, else it will be bottled water and usually overpriced. The wine is often cheaper than water.
Dinner in Europe is always later than expected.
If you find that you’re the only one in the restaurant at 6 pm, it doesn’t mean it’s not a good spot. Most dinner times are around 8 pm+ — try it out!
Tipping is not necessary (for most countries).
We tip on everything in the US and in Europe it’s the opposite. It’s almost always included in the price of the menu. At a high end restaurant, I would tip a bit but other then that, leaving a few Euros or change is sufficient.
Be prepared to pay for public bathrooms.
I always carry a few Euros with me in case I need to pop into a bathroom. Usually its around 1-2 Euros.
WiFi can be found with some effort.
It’s always hit or miss for Internet in Europe — some cities seem to have free WiFi everywhere and then others it’s a challenge. Most cafes will give you a code with a purchase, so it’s an ideal time to get on the internet.
There is not “a one SIM card” for Europe.
If you land in France and plan on going to other countries like Spain or Italy, it’s good to know that the local SIM you get in France won’t work anywhere else. If you’ll be there for 2 weeks it may make sense to get one, otherwise, I would recommend checking with your cell provider at home. I pay for an extra number each year with T Mobile as it has free international.
Trains are really easy to use.
It can be an overwhelming experience to go grab a train but trust me when I say it’s well laid out. Don’t worry when you don’t know your track number until 10 minutes before, that’s how it’s organized. Trust me, you’ll be able to get on in time. Stay by the sign about 15 minutes before and when your track is labeled, head over.
Train tickets can be equally cheap and expensive.
I’ve paid for a same day train from Paris to Bordeaux, and trust me, I paid almost double what I would have paid had I booked it in advance. And on the contrary, I’ve seen some great same day deals at the station. Any big distances, I would recommend to always book in advance.
Some city names are different in local language and important to note for trains.
For instance, Prague is Praha and this can be confusing if you were looking for a train line labeled “Prague.” Be sure to double check names ahead of time.
In peak months, you need to reserve your train seat.
In most countries, the main routes will book out. I always recommend getting these seat reservations a few weeks in advance.
Safety requires common sense.
I’ve found Europe generally really safe and I recommend using common sense. Do your research in advance as to where to avoid, especially at night. Pick pocketing is an issue, so keep those bags in front of you and well zipped, especially in crowded places.
A few words in the local language will go a long way.
Though English is widely spoken, I’ve found that a few words like “please” and “thank you” will go a long way.
Luggage that is lightweight and have sturdy wheels will save you.
Tons of cobblestones and usually a lot of stairs will be the hardest part of taking luggage around. I try to have sturdy luggage that doesn’t way a ton to ease the process.
Alert your credit cards and debit cards before arrival.
You don’t want to have your card frozen on you. You can call your bank and set a travel alert for your trip in advance.
Don’t exchange money at the airport, your best rate is at a local bank ATM.
The exchange rates are always highest at the airport, so I recommend going to an ATM to withdraw local currency.
It’s alway good to know what’s going on politically.
I always have a glance at local news before arrival. It’s super important to know what’s going locally. Often times there are strikes, like the common airline issues in France, so this awareness can help make any necessary changes.
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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!
These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.
1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: