For those of you who might be planning your first trip to Europe, or for those repeat travelers who might need a refresher, I thought I’d put together some really basic tips when preparing for your journey.
Many people will speak English, but some won’t. Learn how to say a few BASIC things in the language of the country you are visiting.
“Do you speak English?”
“I do not speak _____.”
That’s a good start.
And if someone does speak English, be sure to speak slower than normal and really annunciate your words. In American English, we tend to drop the consonants at the ends of words. Especially T and D. Don’t drop your consonants! And I admit I sometimes forget, and speak way too fast for some people to understand me. I should know better. It’s like when I communicate in German with native speakers. I always have to ask them to speak slower for me to be able to understand them – because I still have to process the language in my head – it’s not automatic. I have to think it through. Speaking slow is key.
2. Smart Phones.
This category is two fold.
First, make sure you have your data roaming and cellular data turned OFF before your plane takes off to leave the USA. This is really crucial. If you don’t, you will come home to a phone bill in the thousands. Just one incoming email could cost you a fortune. You can keep your voice roaming on, which is normal phone calls. That costs a lot too though, so I personally don’t answer my phone when I’m overseas. I just check my voice mail once in awhile to find out if I have any messages.
Install Skype, Viber, and Tango. They allow for FREE calls and texts between people who have the same app. Skype and Tango will allow for video calls, phone calls, and texts. Viber just allows for phone calls and texts. But as long as both parties have internet access, you’re good to go! Facebook Messenger works great too.
With that in mind, be ready to always be on the lookout for wifi. I know that when some people travel, they really don’t need to have internet access, but some of us do depend on it daily. So look for wifi at Starbucks, McDonald’s, and even some cities will have free wifi in town. But you will not have constant internet access like back home in the States.
Secondly, apps are the way to go. Download some handy apps for where you’re going. Some are free, some are a few bucks. Read the reviews, see which ones cover your priorities. Museums? Night life? Food? And on that note, download the Tripadvisor app. It’s a great way to find places to eat when you are in a foreign city you’ve never been to. It’s been invaluable to us in our travels. If you’re super old school and don’t have a smart phone, I’m a big fan of the Rick Steves travel books. They’re great!
I also like to go online before going to a new city and download some maps: public transportation maps, city maps, you get the idea. Then I put it in an album on my iPhoto and load it into my smart phone. Voila – I have a handy map that does not require an internet connection to access.
3. Try to pack light. Especially if you are going to be doing a lot of traveling from city to city. And make sure you have really comfortable shoes. Some of my packing tips? Here’s a link to an article I wrote about that last year: Packing tips.
4. If you are going to Europe, you don’t need a Visa. Just your Passport. Your “Visa” is implied. Americans can be in Europe 90 days in a six month period. Any longer than that, and you do need a Visa. Also check your Passport expiration date – it usually needs to be good for at least six months after your travel dates.
5. Dates are written differently, so don’t let it mess you up! 9/3/14 is MARCH 9, 2014. It is NOT September 3rd. Also – times are not always written AM and PM. Europe uses what we call military time. It’s a 24 hour clock. So you might see something listed as being at 14:15 as the time. That would be 2:15pm.
6. And lastly, don’t be afraid of the adventure! If I can get on a train and head all over Europe without a problem, so can you! Just do it!