Okay so – Europe is the greatest continent on Earth (as you will soon discover). However, a lot of other people have already figured this out and so going into your adventure prepared can be key to saving you time and money so that you can make the most out of your European experience!
Plan everything before you go: reserve hostels, plan what you wanna see, reserve your transportation seats (I suggest using a EuRail pass to get around (non-EU citizens only) for the locations near each other and a local low-cost airline (such as RyanAir or EasyJet) to travel between far away places.
- Always buy a ticket and do not try and skip out. More often than not you will end up paying a fine that is a lot more expensive than the ticket you should’ve purchased. (This is especially true on the vaporettos/water-taxis in Venice, Italy).
- Pack light! I cannot emphasize this enough! You will want to bring travel memories back. (Don’t forget you’ll be carrying your necessities with you and those add up in your pack). Be weather conscious: yes it’s hot in the summer, but bring pants and a light jacket! You’d be surprised how cold you can get standing on top of the Eiffel Tower in August.
- Hostel Hints: I personally use http://www.hostelworld.com (if you use your phone you can get a discount). I suggest booking your hostel as soon as possible in order to get the cheapest rate, keeping in mind that rates are typically higher on the weekends and around major events (good luck finding a hostel last minute during Oktoberfest). Also, you need to always read the hostel reviews. Personally, I search for ones that are walking distance to the city center ( or at least a train station), offer free breakfast, and have free lines and towels (although, many hostels will have these available for rent). Be cautious not to bring anything you don’t mind leaving in a room with 12+ strangers and get a travel lock. Don’t let the fear of theft keep you away from the authentic hostel experience of sleeping in a room of tons of strangers. These will be friends you will likely keep in touch with for life. However, I would highly suggest you bring earplugs…seriously. If you’re not keen on the idea of a hostel and have a group planned out, consider renting on http://www.airbnb.com and staying in a local home.
- Carry small bills if possible and try to limit the number of times you go to the ATM as you get charged a conversion fee per transaction. Also- don’t forget to call your bank before you leave to let them know you will be out of the country so they don’t shut off your funds. During that conversation, ask about sister banks they may have in Europe to get cash with no usage charge, just a currency conversion charge – anything helps, right?
- Care for your passport like it’s your child. You will be required to show your passport (or identification card if you are an EU citizen) whenever you are crossing country lines whether it be a train or a plane.
- Love thy grocery shop. You will definitely want to eat out to taste the local food (i try to avoid places that have an English menu if possible, they tend to rack up the prices), but i wouldn’t do that for every meal. Eat like the locals do and make use of the grocery stores!!!! You will still find items there that you wouldn’t see in your home grocery.
- Learn some key words of the local language: I CANNOT EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH I promise you it will enhance your experience and ease of getting around. I found that people were a lot more willing and happy to help when you at least make an effort to speak to them in their own language (especially in France and Germany). You don’t need to carry around a dictionary, but it would be useful to keep a notebook of words you find useful. This will also help you to not buy body wash thinking it was shampoo… I speak from personal experience and days of very brittle hair.
- Adapters are cheaper in Europe. Unless you will need it immediately, I would save the space and weight in your pack and find one at a hardware store. European shops are organized by item category (ex: linen shop, butcher, bakery, pharmacy, shoes, house-ware, etc,) so don’t expect a Wal-Mart replica. Ask your hostel desk for suggestions on where to buy one. Don’t want to splurge? Most hostels will have them available for rent too.
- You don’t need that international phone plan. While you could always upgrade your current cell phone plan to include international calls/texts, I would never suggest that. Save yourself the money and opt for an app like WhatsApp or Viber to tell your mom and dad back home that you are alive and/or found your future husband on the beaches of Barcelona. This is truly the cheapest and simplest way. It wouldn’t make sense to get a SIM card there because each country has its own plan so you wouldn’t be able to use it universally anyways. My advice? Take your current phone with you, turn off roaming and data, put it on airplane mode (basically do everything possible to avoid charges of any kind) and just use the wifi at the various cafes and/or hostels you visit. If you want to contact people back here in the states you in can do so for free (when you have wifi) through those apps, the only stipulation being that whoever you want to talk with also has to have Viber or WhatsApp. If you can’t seem to convince your family to download those apps, you can always use Facebook for both video and phone calls. Lastly…if you’re in Europe…minimize phone usage! There are so many better things around you than what your friends back home are doing.