There’s a reason Americans have been choosing Europe as their premier travel destination for decades. It’s equally romantic and yet somehow familiar. We see European scenes play out in movies and are intrigued by the rich cultures, food, and architecture. However, if this is your first time journeying across Europe, you might want to know in advance a little of what to expect.
First, get a car — even if your trip is in England. It’s surprisingly much easier to drive on the “other” side of the road than many Americans imagine. However, if you don’t regularly drive a stick shift (or even if you do), it might be a good idea to splurge on an automatic. It’s one less change to contend with, and some parts of the UK can be quite hilly.
Now that you have transportation figured out, here are a few more expectations to tuck away as you prepare:
- More people speak English than you’ll expect. Increasingly, English is being spoken, even in cities where the stereotypes persist (like in Paris, where it is thought that the French refuse to speak English). In Western European countries, there has also been a shift towards speaking more English in the past decade. The goal of many merchants is to just make money, and that requires making sure customers are happy. It’s still essential to learn key phrases and to do your best to communicate in the language spoken in the country you visit, but rest assured that you will probably meet quite a few English-speakers.
- There are more vegan and vegetarian options than you might imagine. This has also been a big change in recent years. As people become more aware of the dangers of industrialized farming, as well as the shifting of morals and ethics, there are merely more plant-based options in Europe. This will put any veg-friendly travelers mind at ease.
- Everything is going to be smaller. From the hotel rooms to the standard cars and portion sizes, things are just smaller in Europe. This will be especially true if you want to visit more rural or historical places, or stay in buildings that are from previous centuries. Be prepared, particularly if you’re on the taller side, because you may be a little cramped.
- There are sometimes only bathtubs. Showers still aren’t a norm in many places. You might find yourself making do with a clawfoot bathtub and nothing else. This can be frustrating for fervent shower-lovers, but it’s something that you’ll quickly adjust to.
- Parking may require some work (or a local mobile number). If you park on the street or in a parking garage in many cities, there’s often no option for paying with a credit card or cash. Increasingly, cities are adopting apps that allow you to pay with your phone. The issue is that the apps might require a local number. Even if you have an international plan, that won’t work. You can choose to get a SIM in whichever country you visit, or plan ahead and have the parking company’s headquarters’ number plugged into your phone. If you call HQ, they will often work with you to take a card over the phone.
- You won’t find ride shares everywhere. Even in mid-sized cities, ride share options like Uber and Lyft might not be available. It will feel a bit like the 90s or early aughts when your only option for a private car is to call a taxi. A lot of these taxis also don’t have apps, and might not have a “card reader.” You’ll want to plan a little extra time if you’re trying to make a reservation, especially if there’s a special event happening in the city.
- Everyone takes public transportation. Having a car is vital for when you want to move on to the next city or see regional attractions, but in the actual city you’ll want to take public transportation like everyone else. The trains and buses are expertly created to make travel fast and easy.
- You might be sharing a bathroom. If you book a B&B or a home-sharing situation, there’s a good chance you might be sharing the bathroom with the entire floor (or house). If that’s an issue for you, make sure to read descriptions carefully.
Traveling to Europe takes a little prep work. Don’t forget your voltage converters (or buy some as soon as you land) and challenge yourself to get off the beaten path a bit. The best European memories often come from stories that start with, “I decided to explore down this one street…”
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