Looking for Europe travel tips for Americans? Look no further than my 10 mistakes Americans make on their Europe trip!
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Planning a trip to Europe?
Europe is a dream destination for many travelers, with its rich history, beautiful architecture, and diverse cultures. However, it's easy for inexperienced travelers to fall into common mistakes that can ruin their European vacation.
I started traveling to Europe frequently as an adult, and I saw the same pitfalls into which many of my fellow American travelers were repeatedly falling. I actually started this blog as a way to encourage people to do a little bit of leg work (both in planning and perhaps, emotionally) to take their travel experience from perfunctory to transformative.
So, let's discuss the Europe travel mistakes that most Americans make, to ensure you have an unforgettable and enjoyable trip. From packing and researching appropriately to exploring authentic experiences, we'll cover all the essential tips to make the most out of your European adventure.
Don't let simple errors ruin your chance to experience the beauty, history, and culture of Europe. Read on to discover how to avoid the pitfalls and make your trip an incredible success.
American Tourist Mistakes in Europe
Not Researching Local Customs Before You Go
If you take nothing else from this article, please know that simply saying "hello" to French people, in their language, will revolutionize your trip. For all the discussion of how "rude" the French are, the smallest bit of effort can take your time in France from slightly uncomfortable to deeply enjoyable. Similarly, the Brits are obsessed with waiting in line (I say this lovingly, as a dedicated Anglophile). Don't even think about cutting in line. In fact, you need to obviously ask everyone you can remotely see if they are in line. And then get in line quietly and obediently, and don't talk to anyone unless directly approached.
Different cultures have different practices and values, and being aware of them can make all the difference in your interactions with locals. For example, in some countries, it's considered rude to tip at restaurants or cafes, while in others, it's seen as necessary. Additionally, dress codes can differ depending on the location and the activity.
Being aware of these nuances can not only avoid awkward moments but also help you blend in better and appreciate the local way of life. Awkward interactions with staff and locals during the height of tourist season can really put a damper on your day. Research the countries you're visiting. Learn how to say a few simple words, always smile, and, when in doubt: wait, ask, and thank.
Packing the Wrong Clothes
When it comes to packing for a European vacation, it can be tempting to bring along everything you own. After all, you want to be prepared for any activity or occasion, right? However, overpacking can quickly become a hindrance to your travels. Not only will you have to lug around heavy bags, but you may also have trouble navigating public transportation or fitting into those tiny European hotel rooms.
Another common mistake we Americans can make is not dressing appropriately for the weather. Europe's weather can vary greatly depending on the time of year and location, so it's important to research the climate and plan accordingly. Failing to pack the right clothing can lead to discomfort and frustration, and can even ruin your plans for the day if you're caught unprepared. A few simple accessories and pieces of outerwear can ease your transition from London to Barcelona.
But you've come to the right place! I love chatting about packing for a trip to Europe! Check out The Ultimate Packing Guide for a Trip to Europe, Packing for 10 Days in Europe, and my country-specific packing guides:
Ignoring Public Transportation
Coming from sprawling suburban cities, like mine, that unfortunately lack large-scale public transportation, many American tourists make the mistake of ignoring Europe's public transportation, opting instead for costly taxis, pre-booked cars, or confusing, unintentionally time-consuming walks.
While I'm all about exploring a city on foot and going with the flow, relying on taxis drain your travel budget and limit your opportunities for exploration. Public transportation, such as trains, subways, and, yes, buses, can take you to areas that may not be accessible by car and can offer a more authentic experience of the local culture.
By staying open to public transportation, you can also avoid getting lost or turned around in an unfamiliar city. Many public transportation options provide maps and schedules, making it easy for you to navigate and plan your itinerary. Plus, it can add an element of adventure to your trip as you explore new neighborhoods and soak up the atmosphere of daily life in Europe. European public transportation is almost always safe, clean, and affordable.
Do your research beforehand and always be aware of pickpockets and other potential hazards in crowded areas, just as you would in a large American city.
Sticking to Tourist Traps Instead of Exploring Authentic Experiences
When traveling to a new city or country in Europe, it can be tempting to stick to the popular tourist attractions and activities. After all, they're popular for a reason, right? However, by limiting yourself exclusively to these well-known areas, often tourist traps, you are missing out on the opportunity to explore the authentic experiences that make a destination unique.
Remember. You don't have to see everything in a city. See the things you want to see. Skip "must-see" attractions that don't interest you or don't seem worth your time. Feel free to shake up the itinerary and skip that last Paris museum if your feet are killing you and go grab some wine on the Seine instead.
Not Reacquainting Yourself with European History
While there is no denying that indulging in the local cuisine and seeing famous landmarks are essential parts of any European vacation, part of truly appreciating these things is remembering the history behind them.
By learning about the history of the cities and countries you will be visiting, you can gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the cultures and traditions you encounter. Reacquaint yourself with a few basic milestone historical events in the cities you'll be visiting, so you'll have a mental timeline into which you can store new facts.
Practical Matters: Forgetting to Notify Your Bank of Your Travel Plans
Being prepared for your European vacation involves more than just packing the right clothes and researching the history of your destinations. Don't forget to notify your bank and credit card company of your travel plans before embarking on your adventure. Failing to do so could result in your bank or credit card company flagging your account for unusual activity, leading to a financial headache that can put a damper on your trip.
Most banks and credit card companies offer an option to notify them of your travel plans online or by phone. This simple step can save you from dealing with a blocked credit card or frozen bank account while thousands of miles away from home. It's also important to ensure that you have a backup payment plan, such as a second credit card or cash, in case of emergencies. Remember to change cash into Euros or pounds before your trip at your American bank to avoid huge mark-ups once you're overseas.
Not Getting Outside of Your Comfort Zone
I have a very distinct memory of waiting in a long line to board a flight in Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport. As I stared at the remarkably fancy French airport cafe line slowly moving though its customers, I witness an American woman come up to the register. In her loudest possible non-scream, she started repeatedly demanding "DO YOU SERVE AMERICAN COFFEE" to the visibly frustrated attendant, who spoke perfect English. I love a good cup o'Joe as much as the next girl (I'm literally drinking one now), but let's keep this story as food for thought.
While it can be tempting to stick with what you know and feel comfortable with, doing so can result in a lackluster and unfulfilling trip. While many, many aspects of life in Europe are remarkably similar to our lives in the States, remember that you're visiting for a reason- to learn about a different part of the world. Hamburgers will still be here when you get home. Spring for what the locals are eating. Worst case scenario: you don't like it and you've wasted a few euros.
Your trip to Europe can be an unforgettable experience if you take the time to prepare and avoid common mistakes. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."
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