Advice for first-time travelers to Europe

Welcome back everyone!

Today I will be giving you the advice I wish I had been given before embarking on my recent trip to France and Italy. So far my blog has been solely focused on my adventures during this trip, so I highly suggest you read some of my other posts about it if you are interested in travel. It was my first time in Europe and traveling out of the country in general, so I definitely learned a lot through trial and error. This is only from my one experience and I am by no means a travel expert so take everything with a grain of salt, but hopefully it still helps you guys out!

One point that always comes up as a concern is pickpocketing, especially in Italy. It definitely can happen, but it won’t if you know how to present yourself and protect your valuables. If you can, use a small crossbody bag or fanny pack rather than a larger bag or backpack. If you need to carry a larger bag, use one that will still be close to your body and can be zipped shut. If you are using a backpack, wear it backwards/on your front side in crowded areas like train stations or any tourist-filled areas. I know there are some theft-proof wallets/bags out there for purchase so you can buy those if you travel regularly or are just really concerned, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Definitely stay aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas, and always keep your eye on your stuff or hold it tightly. The spots I found seemed the sketchiest were usually around public transportation or train stations, but you definitely need to watch out at any big attractions/monuments too. Also, be careful when taking out money at ATMs- use ones inside if possible and try to use ones in more isolated areas.

Another thing that I didn’t expect coming from the US was the bathroom situation. There aren’t many public toilets and if there are, you will most likely to have to pay 1 euro to use them. In addition, lots of smaller restaurants may not have a working bathroom. Always go to the bathroom in your hotel room or lobby while you can, or else you may be in trouble later in the day. Often times my family and I ended up heading back to the hotel a couple times a day just for the purpose of going to the bathroom. Bathrooms are also just different in Europe (i.e. much smaller, toilets flush differently, all just little things that aren’t too odd), so don’t expect them to be super luxurious or similar to home, even if you are in your hotel room.

One cultural difference I noticed is that people eat meals (especially dinner) a lot later, and often times stores and restaurants close for a period in the afternoon (it varies but usually around 1-3pm). At home my family usually eats dinner from the 5-7pm range but on the trip we usually ate around 7, and the restaurants would not be busy at all when we were there unless we were close to a large tourist attraction. Right when we would leave the restaurant would usually be when it got busier and more people were out on the streets; people definitely stay out later, whether it’s for dinner or just hanging out in the town squares. You can use this to your advantage because if you don’t mind eating a bit earlier, everything will be practically empty and there will be shorter wait times. It also gets dark a lot later (in Paris the sun didn’t set until 10:00ish!) so time just seems to pass by in a different manner.

The atmosphere at restaurants is also very different in Europe. People spend a lot more time talking at the table and there is generally a much longer wait to get your food. You also have to ask for the check; unlike in America, everyone is taking their time and the server will almost never bring it to you on their own. It’s kind of nice though since you can just sit back and enjoy your meal and the people you’re with at the table for a while.

A tip that’s somewhat obvious- WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES!! Even if you take public transportation to get around whatever cities you visit, you will still be walking for a majority of the day and it will definitely start to wear on you towards the end of your trip. In the first city we visited (Paris) we were able to walk around all day and just keep going, but by the end of our trip we usually needed to return to the hotel for an hour or two in the afternoon just to rest and take a break since we were so drained. Everyone in my family was wearing comfortable shoes; therefore, we would have completely died without them. The streets are often cobblestone and somewhat uneven so they are especially hard on your feet and it would be very difficult to walk on them in heels or anything of that sort.

The last thing I’ll mention in this post is to just be courteous to all of the locals and staff you interact with. Most people will speak some English at restaurants and tourist destinations if you are in a big city, but it’s still polite to ask first rather than assume they do and say a bunch of stuff they won’t understand. From my experience, the people in Italy were slightly more friendly than the people in France; however, both groups were overall very kind and helpful whenever we came into interaction. It helps to know some basic phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting- I would suggest knowing how to say hello, thank you, good morning/day, and goodbye at a bare minimum, and you may pick up some others during your trip as well. Be mindful of your actions in public (and your volume, Americans are loud!) and try not to stand out too much, even though you’ll probably still be identifiable as a tourist no matter what.

Above all, enjoy your trip!! It will most likely be one of the best experiences of your life and definitely a rich cultural immersion. My trip was definitely one of the highlights of my year and I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the world in the future. If there’s bumps in the road, don’t sweat it- just keep moving, it happens to everyone. I hope you all have the best time on your travels, stay tuned for more content! This may be my last travel related post for now, but new and exciting things are to come.

-Brooke

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