Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling in Europe

Having a “just go for it” mentality when it comes to traveling has gotten me really far in a lot of cases. However, it has also left me with the thought of, “if only I had known…” plenty of times. When you travel, you’re left vulnerable to making mistakes. After all, you’re in a new place, you're not as familiar to the customs, cultures and even languages and on top of that, you’re constantly making decisions to keep you safe and get you from point A to B. After I returned home from my four month trip through Europe, I made a mental list of the things I wished I’d known before traveling there. I hope that reading through them will help prepare you for an unforgettable journey through an amazing, history filled part of the world. Here are five things I wish I knew before traveling in Europe.

If You Get Sick, Don’t Avoid Medical Help

I don’t mean to start this list off with something so dire, but avoiding medical attention to dodge an overseas medical bill can be a dangerous mistake. If you get sick or injured during your eurotrip, start off by going to a pharmacy and getting a pharmacist’s opinion. In many cases, they can diagnose and give you medicine that you’d have to get a prescription for in the States. When I was in France, I got a stomach bug and was throwing up all night. The next morning, I went to a pharmacy and they gave me these little pink pills that literally cured me. The best part was that they were only 5 euros.

In some cases, the pharmacy won’t do and you’ll need to see a doctor, It’s best not to avoid that either. Unfortunately, this happened to me too while I was in Ireland. I had a cold that just wouldn’t go away and I kept avoiding a doctor’s visit, because I imagined it would be hundreds of dollars, which I just didn’t want to deal with. After my cough got so bad that I started to worry, I finally begrudgingly went to the nearest local doctor in Kilkenny to find out that the cost for a prescription of antibiotics and my doctor’s visit was 50 euros. Obviously, I would have rather avoided paying it, but it wasn’t the hole in my wallet that I thought it was going to be. Bottom line: don’t put off seeking medical attention when you travel, especially when you’re in a continent known for its health care. I promise, it’ll be a lot cheaper than ending up in the ER, because you didn’t seek medical help soon enough.

Always Carry Cash With You

I’m so used to not having to worry about having cash on hand when in the US. I can easily go months without even touching a green bill with a ride a few taps of my smartphone away thanks to rideshare apps and only obscure places not accepting cards. However, things are a little different on the other side of the pond. Many places do in fact accept credit and debit cards, but there were more instances than I could count in which bars, restaurants, and even grocery stores wouldn't accept my VISA.

One occurrence in Amsterdam was particularly painful. I had finished unloading my cart full of groceries at a checkout stand, when I was told that it was cash only. I was directed to an ATM, but after several attempts to withdraw money, I had to accept  the fact that it was out of order and had no choice, but to embarrassingly leave empty-handed.

Bottom-line: you’re going to need cash a lot more when in Europe, so it’s best to always have some on hand. Don’t exchange any at an airport, but wait until you can find an ATM to get the best exchange rate. It’s also best to withdraw as big of a sum as the ATM will allow so that you minimize the number of ATM fees you rack up.

Be Prepared to Talk Politics

This was more exaggerated for me, because I was traveling in the middle of the US election cycle. Regardless, no matter how much you know or care about politics, be prepared to be asked about your political views and even personal questions you’re not exactly comfortable with.

If you’re not well-versed in politics, then I recommend taking the time to look at what’s happening in your country before traveling to Europe. Like it or not, people tend to expect you to know a lot about governmental decisions and how it’s affecting the world. Additionally, if your political views don’t match with someone else’s, don’t lose your cool, even if the other person seems to be taking out their frustration on you.

Adaptors and Chargers Are Your Best Friend

Notice the plural here. If you’re traveling with your camera, laptop, phone and any other electronics, then having one adaptor is going to be a pain.

Keep in mind that there isn’t a universal adaptor for Europe and so make sure you buy multiple all-in-one adaptors that will give you all the adaptors you’ll need when traveling in Europe. Although the extra cost is annoying, you’ll be thankful that you didn’t make the mistake of traveling with one adaptor and five different things that need charging. Additionally, bring extra USB cables! I can’t stress this enough. I started my journey with four cables and came back with one. Not only do they have a terribly short lifespan, but they’re one of those things that you can easily accidentally leave behind.

Do Your Research into the Cheapest Mode of Transportation

Transportation is usually the most expensive part of a trip. There really is no way to get around the cost of getting from one place to another. That being said, you can save hundreds of dollars by doing your research into the cheapest mode of transportation.

For example, in France I saved 80 euros by taking a bus from Lyon to Paris instead of the train and in Ireland I made the mistake of paying 50 euros for a train ticket when I found out the next day that I could have taken a charter bus for 10. Yes, finding the cheapest option usually means you’re going to have to deal with longer travel days, but bring a book or download a movie, the savings are worth it.

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