Most people I know – especially in America – dream of visiting Europe. There's something so intriguing and romantic about this part of the world.
And Europe IS an amazing place to travel.
But, if you're planning a trip to the continent anytime soon, here are a few things you should know first:
In recent years, Europe has essentially become a borderless part of the world. When the countries of the European Union banded together economically, they also essentially did away with borders and passport control. Today you can travel from France to Belgium to Germany and never have to change money or hand over your passport.But non-Europeans need to be aware of something called the Schengen Zone when traveling in Europe. Made up of 26 Western European nations (with the exception of the UK and Ireland), this borderless area has a strict 90-day rule associated with it: you cannot legally spend more than 90 days within the zone within every 180 days. (Go here to read more about the Schengen Zone.)
If you're used to chain hotels in the U.S., get ready for something slightly different in Europe. While you of course CAN find all the major chains in most big European cities, a lot of hotels are smaller, family-run operations – especially outside of the big cities.
Depending on which country you're in, this can mean smaller rooms and weird showers (some without any curtains and where you have to hold the shower head), but usually cheaper prices.
This of course does not apply to every country (I'm looking at you especially, Germany and Scandinavia), but the European pace of life can be very different to what we're used to in America (or even Australia). Things move slower in countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, and Croatia – MUCH slower. Shops will close in the afternoon for “siesta,” and dinner usually doesn't start until at least 8 p.m. – and can last for hours.
Especially in countries where things move slower, you may find that service standards won't be the same as what you're used to back home. Even though tipping is expected at restaurants in France and Italy, for example, do not be surprised to find stand-offish wait staff and extremely slow service. It's not true everywhere, of course, but I have come across some of the worst customer service while traveling in Europe.
Lastly (and perhaps the thing I hate most about traveling in Europe), don't be surprised when you have to pay to use public toilets. Even at rest stops and train stations there is often a fee to use the toilet. It's usually not much (generally no more than the equivalent of 50 cents USD), but it does take some getting used to.
And, just because you're paying for it doesn't mean it's going to be clean. While I have found spotless pay-to-use toilets in places like Germany and Austria, I've also used disgusting ones in Italy and Eastern Europe.
I don't want to turn you off of traveling to Europe, of course. Europe is an amazing place to travel, with so much history and culture. You should just be aware of the little differences mentioned above so that they don't come as surprises and negatively impact your travels at all. Once you come to terms with these differences between Europe and the rest of the world, you'll be well on your way to an enjoyable holiday.
Do you have any additional tips from your European vacation?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Graduate student by day and avid traveler and blogger by night (and on weekends and during holidays), Amanda is just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a "normal" life with a desire to discover the world beyond her Midwest bubble. Amanda's adventurous nature and inability to say "no" have led her to some pretty amazing adventures all around the world. But she has no desire to stop exploring anytime soon. Read Amanda's blog, A Dangerous Business, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.
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