Monday, January 30, 2017

38 Practical Tips to Traveling in Europe

      Last Summer, I packed my bags and went on my longest trip to date -- 70 days in Europe. I've tried traveling solo, duo, trio and in a group during that period of time and I love single one of the experiences. Summer 2016, thanks for the fondest memories.
      Now, I am by no means an expert but here is some practical stuff I would like to share with all you lovely people. Tips to traveling in Europe, here we go: 

1. Use GoEuro to compare bus, train and flight tickets. 

- I use GoEuro website to compare prices before buying any tickets. I find it really easy to use and the information given is very precise. I manage to grab a lot of €1 bus tickets using this website and it saved me a lot of money. A LOT. 

2. Fight for your rights in case of delays.

- If your bus got delayed more than 1 hour, don't put up with that! Act and fight for your customers' right. Europeans are all about human rights so when my bus got delayed, I thought to myself why not, and called the customer service. They compensated me with free train tickets so that I can get to my destination faster.

3. Jump on Night Bus/ Train  

- If you are a light sleeper, this tip is probably not for you. However, if you have the rare talent to fall asleep anytime anywhere (like me), try to book a night bus to save on accommodation (+bring a sleeping bag)! And it gets you to your destination wayyy earlier than the mass tourist. Double win! My long distance bus from Paris to London took 8 hours and it involved boarding a ship! Best of all, it only cost $6!

4. Use Skyscanner to scan for cheap flights

- I personally use Skyscanner app to scan for the cheapest flight tickets, but that is just the first step! Click into the official websites and check again before you press the purchase button. You might get it cheaper on the airline official websites (Especially Russian budget airlines!).

5. Adore Budget airlines. 

Ryanair is one of my favorite budget airlines because it flies on time and it's really CHEAP. I got my London-Dublin one way ticket with just €9.99. A lot of people complain about their luggage policy, but since I always travel with only a backpack, it doesn't bother me.
- Although I also always use EasyJet and love it, dealing with customer service was not easy during my last trip. Missed my connection flight because of delayed Easyjet, not only I couldn't get refunded, I have to pay for a new ticket. 

6. Hitchhike! 

- I don't know about western Europe but hitchhiking in central Europe was pretty easy. For security reason, I only choose to ride with families. It's easier to get a ride in a parking lot or petrol station than at the roadside. 

7. Travel by trains. 

- I've used an "Interrail Global Pass" for the last leg of my travels, and I loved the flexibility of it for it enable me to board any trains anytime with a single pass! If you are not residing in Europe, try "Eurail".
- Trains in Western Europe are more on time than those in Central Europe. I might be wrong but that was what I experienced. So don't make your travel itinerary too packed, you might have to spend a lot of time in the train station, or in the train itself if anything happens to the track. If you are traveling with trains, don't forget to check out my blog post talking about the potential danger of it and how to avoid them.  

8. Beware of tourist scams.

- I met with the petition scam gangs, the lucky bracelet merchants, the luggage snatches (yes my bags was snatched away but he dropped them and ran eventually), pickpockets and so much more but Thank God I came out from all of them without any lost. According to my experience, just follow 3 golden rules and you'll be fine: 
1. Have your stand. Firmly say no and if they insist or try to touch you, scream "police"/ go wild with your "reflect system". 
2. Don't feel shy to shout. 
3. Even when you are sitting somewhere, always strap your backpack to your body. 
And lastly, of course, be alert. 

9.  Believe your instinct. 

- Although I mostly traveled solo, I didn't feel unsafe at all in Europe. Except for one night when I had to walk 30 minutes to my hostel at 3am, but that was my stupid mistake. One night in Brussels, I was walking to the youth hostel at midnight passing through a shady area. Men kept cat-calling us as we ignored them but at one point I noticed that there was a drunk man in our way who kept shouting. I led my travel partner onto another street and waited until he went away. 

10. Use Couchsurfing wisely. 

-Couchsurfing remains my favorite but sadly, I felt that it is misused by some people out there. So for safety reasons, I'll only stay with ladies or personal friends I met during the trip. Always check the person's facebook page too before accepting a host/guest... at least that is what I do. 
Related: Why I stop using Couchsurfing

11. Compare hostel prices through and take advice from the HostelGeeks.

- To book a hostel, I normally compare prices through Agoda. Recently, I upgraded my requirements when it comes to choosing a hostel. After experiencing bed mites, blood-stained sheets, creep roommates, dodgy area etc, I no longer opt for the cheapest deal. I'll compare the hostels in all possible aspect and for this, the website HostelGeeks comes in handy. It introduces us the concept of a 5-star hostel and you'll never accidentally book a creepy place ever again. 

12. Always book small group tours.  

- I use "Get Your Guide" website to search for small group tours, in my opinion, it works really well. I prefer smaller group tours to keep the authenticity of my experiences. In Italy, I've been on a Cinque Terre tour by BellaItalia tours and Vatican City Early Entrance tour by Livitaly. In Southern France, I've experienced the "Pure Luberon Experience" by Provence Reservation. My trip to Amsterdam was completed by a delightful day trip to Giethoorn, organized by Easyrider. In Venice, my private day tour to the Dolomites was organized perfectly by Venetoinside. Click on the links to read about my experiences!  

13. Always ask about service fees first at a money changer. 

- When changing currency, always ask for the service fees FIRST! Some of them were really sneaky and tried to hide the crazily high service fees if you don't ask before hand! My friend was charged 20 pounds in a currency changer, so beware! 

14. Tap water is safe for drinking, but don't drink from a circulating water fountain!  

- You can drink directly from the taps in almost everywhere of Europe, especially in Switzerland! You don't have to spend 2CHF on Evian water bottles every day! But when I was first told that tap water is safe, I confused it with circulating water fountains. You won't want to know what I tasted (I'm crying while typing this). 

15. Please behave! 

-Please please please oh please behave. Especially this: DO NOT CUT QUEUE! Not only that it brings humiliation to oneself, it also brings humiliation to one's home country, because yeah, human judges. Do I even need to say this? Yes, because in Italy someone started a fight because of this causing my hands to be injured after being pushed down the bus accidentally. 

16. Learn the basic languages.  

- English won't get you everywhere! I know, I was shocked too. I thought English is the international language and I'll be okay traveling across Europe but -- Oh what a huge surprise! Especially in some part of France, Germany, Poland, Czech and Hungary, I needed to use a lot of body languages, google translate and thank God I managed to get around places in Central Europe with my broken Russian Language. 
After my experience in France, I went on to practice a few useful phrases before arriving at a new destination. Knowing how to say "Please", "Thank You", "Toilet" and "Where" in local tongues goes a long way.  And in most cases, locals will appreciate your effort.

17. Bring warm clothes!

- It might be Summer time but never be fooled by European summer. Prepare some warm clothes as it can get quite cold in the north especially in London, Paris and Denmark. Preferably bring a raincoat. It was raining most of the time during my visit, breaking 3 of my umbrellas. I never even bother to get the 4th. R.I.P., my faithful umbrellas. 

18. WC stands for Toilet and you'll have to pay to use it. 

I never thought I'll meet anyone who doesn't know the meaning of WC until I traveled to Europe with an American. So for those who don't know this either, WC is the abbreviation for "Water Closet" and it stands for toilet/ washroom. You'd have to pay 20-50 cent to use a WC everywhere in Europe. Never had I spent so much on a trip on toilets. 

19. Stay central and walk everywhere.

- Once my strategy had always been "stay 30 minutes outside of a city to save cost", but I've discovered a better cost and time-saving strategy. Staying in city centers saves you transportation time and money, it also saves you from travel-exhaustion. In fact, hostels located in the city center are not as expensive as you think... Contrarily, they are normally quite cheap due to serious competition. You just have to book early.  

20. Visit during the off-season. 

If I were given a choice, I would definitely visit Europe in the low/ shoulder season. Europe is a mess during summer. With skyrocketed room rate, crazy crowd, overpriced tours and heat danger, I doubt anyone could enjoy an authentic local experience in the city. 

21.  Eat local

I guess no one would believe me when I say I haven't been to a Chinese eatery in 70 days. Although most of my friends love Chinese food in Europe because they tend to be cheaper and more filling (rice!), I always think that the best way to get acquaintance with the culture is through local cuisines, and I am certainly not going after a China-experience in Europe. My tip is to check out restaurants which only have menus in local languages, because that means they are able to survive well catering towards the local community, which also means that they are good in doing what they do best, in this case, serving great food! 

22. Family Business

Pastries sold near the tourist attractions tend to be pricier and not necessarily better tasting. When I was in Paris, I was quite surprised to the fact that my favorite patisserie is a small family-run business tucked away in the quite street near the Megabus station. So my suggestion is to head off the beaten track and check out the local business. You'll be delighted to find some hidden gems with half the price. 

23. Say no to City-hopping. 

I believe staying longer in one place results in a better overall experience. Let's take Paris as an example. I've heard a lot of bad things about Paris, stating that it is probably one of the most overrated cities in the world. However, if you take some time to wonder around the less traveled streets, hunt around for your favorite pastries, make a few new friends and jog past the famous landmarks first thing in the morning, your experience could take an 180 degrees turn and you'll agree that Paris is the most romantic city after all. To fully explore a city, at least allocate 4 days, or ideally, a week or two. 
Related: How to Plan A Trip from Scratch

24. Mingle with the Locals.  

Use Couchsurfing to meet your new friends in town. I highly recommend using websites like Airbnb to book your apartment stay. Not only you could pay less and stay longer in a city, if you are lucky, your host might show you around or at least give you some insights of what locals do in town. If you are new to Airbnb, click here to claim $32 off your first stay
I personally never say "No" to coffee and activity-invites (unless I don't feel comfortable with that person). So far, I only said yes to one hosting offer because anyhow, safety comes first.  

25. Google and learn about the culture. 

Do a quick research before you board your plane. How is the tipping culture there? How do locals dress up? Is it appropriate to do this or that on the street? Seriously, do it. You won't want to end up in lockups during your vacation

26. Talk. 

Yes, talk to that old lady who sits next to you on the bus, talk to fellow travelers who stay in the same hostel, talk to the travelers on the same guided tour, who knows you might make some really cool friends! So, don't be shy to strike up conversations! 

27. Go off the beaten Path.  

Choose to hit some less-traveled destinations. You might be surprised how underrated they are! So far, Slovenia and Poland are my favorite finds in Summer 2016-- Less touristy, less costly, more authentic

28. Join a free City Walking Tour.

The Europe Sandermanns carries out free walking tours in most popular towns, I've taken the city tours with them in Madrid, London, Edinburg and I can definitely recommend their tours to you. Their guides are very knowledgeable and this will pretty much ensure the local experience you are looking for as they give really on-point suggestions on where to drink, eat and play. In Istanbul, there are students stationed in most tourist attractions and they can give you a lively history lesson of the city. 

29. Take Advices from the Locals or Expats.

Who else gives the best travel advices other than the locals? Those who were born and raised in the city, roamed the backstreets for years know best how to enjoy the city in the most authentic way. 
Read these local guides: 

30. Find out about the Festivals in town. 

Participating in celebrations is a really good way to get the real feel of a city. Join a local festival and see how locals celebrate what they love! One of my favorite experiences is to stay in Avignon during the "In" theater festival. 
Related: Avignon and it's "In" and "Off" Festival.

31. Do a "Free things to do" checklist. 

Even when you are in an expensive city like Amsterdam, there are free-things-to-do galore! Don't believe me? Check out this article: 21 TOTALLY free things I did in Amsterdam

32. Pack Light

Pack light so that you won't fall prey to the "Luggage handlers",  so that you don't have to worry about Easyjet and Ryan air luggage policy, and so that your spine won't break when you need to carry it for a long time (For example, uphill during a camping trip! ). Don't forget to pack in a European converter! 

33. Download offline map

Ulmon CityMaps2Go is now officially my favorite offline navigation application. It's perfect for travelers without mobile data. Ulmon features preloaded maps, articles, bearing, and suggestions to over 7,000 destinations around the world. I’ve been using it since MeiChi introduced it to me in Glasgow. 

34. Rent a car.

If you are traveling in a group of 4, hiring a car might be the most budget friendly option. Yes, even cheaper than train pass! Moreover, You are able to design your own route, enjoying absolute flexibility. You can rent a car in a city and return it in another city (check out the drop-off fee! ) Thing you'll need: International driver's license, credit card and a decent supply of coffee on the road!

35. Hire a pocket Wi-fi? Free Wi-Fi? 

If your job needs you to be online most of the time, it's wise to hire a pocket wifi. If not, free wifi provided in hostels, restaurants, public squares, and public libraries are pretty much sufficient. 

36. Don't be afraid to try new things!

I've had numerous first experiences of various activities during my recent Europe Trip. I was afraid of height (Yes I do.), but it didn't stop me from jumping off the cliff with Hang Gliding Interlaken and Paraglide with the school of Air Sports Chamonix! In Procida, I joined a Kayak tour for the very first time and totally wonderstruck, I shall make this statement at the top of my lungs: Joining a kayaking adventure with ASD Kayak Procida was the best decision I’ve made in the Gulf of Naples. 

37. Staying Healthy

So we've come to the last point, which is the most important of all-- to stay healthy! Traveling takes us out of our comfort zones, exposing us to new experiences, new cultures, and tons of positive vibes. However, we’d appreciate having our health remained IN the “Comfort Zone”. Seriously, you won't wanna walk around with a runny nose, cough or the torture of needing to restrain yourself from buying gelato. 
Here is an article of mine featured on the Elite Daily: 10 ways to stay healthy on the road. 

38. Be ever ready for Emergency. 

Let's face it, no matter how well prepared you think you are, life never fail to give you sh*t. I lost my passport, camera, bank cards and everything I'd need to continue the journey in France, but Thank God, I managed to pull it through. The moral of the story? Always keep the contact numbers of your country Embassy Office whenever you travel! 

Instagram: @littlemisshappyfeet
A photo posted by Vivian Dominique Lee (@littlemisshappyfeet) on

Last but not least, here is my exact itinerary: 
62. Riga, Latvia. (Group)
61. Budapest, Hungary. (Group)
60. Plitvice, Croatia (Solo)
59. Stein Am Rhine, Switzerland. (Solo)
58. Rhinefalls, Switzerland. (Solo)
57. Strasbourg, France. (Solo)
56. Colmar, France. (Solo)
55. Florence, Italy (Solo)
54. Ljubljana. Slovenia. (Solo)
53. Vintgar, Slovenia. (Solo)
52. Lake Bled, Slovenia. (Solo)
51. Hallstatt, Austria. (Solo)
50. Vienna, Austria. (Solo) 
49. Cesky Krumlov, Czech. (Solo) 
48 Kutna Hora, Czech. (Solo)
47. Prague, Czech. (Solo)
46. Krakow, Poland. (Solo)
45. Wroclaw, Poland. (Solo)
44. Szczecin, Poland. (Solo)
43. Potsdam, Germany. (trio)
42. Berlin, Germany. (trio)
41. Neuschwanstein, Germany. (duo) 
40. München, Germany. (duo)
39. Salzburg, Austria. (duo)
38. Lucern, Switzerland. (duo)
37. Zurich, Switzerland. (duo)
36. Bern, Switzerland. (solo)
35. Geneva, Switzerland. (duo)
34. Interlaken, Switzerland. (duo)
33. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. (duo) 
32. Zermatt, Switzerland (duo)
31. Konstanz, Germany. (group)
30. Meersburg, Germany. (group)
29. Titisee, Germany. (group)
28. Tübingen, Germany. (duo)
27. Köln, Germany (duo)
26. Gent, Belgium (duo)
25. Bruges, Belgium (duo)
24. Brussels, Belgium. (duo)
23. Giethoorn, Netherlands (duo)
22. Zaanse Schans, Netherlands. (duo)
21. Amsterdam, Netherlands. (duo)
20. Kinderdijk, Netherlands. (solo)
19. Rotterdam, Netherlands. (solo)
18. London, England. (duo)
17. Loire Valley, France. (duo)
16. Provence, France. (duo)
15. Vaucluse, France (duo)
14. Chamonix Mount Blanc, France. (duo)
13. Paris, France (duo)
12. Milan, Italy. (solo)
11. Cinque Terre, Italy. (solo) 
10. Pisa, Italy. (solo)
9. Vatican City (solo)
8. Rome, Italy. (solo)
7. Verona, Italy. (solo)
6. Procida, Italy. (solo)
5. Capri, Italy. (solo)
4. Amalfi Coast, Italy. (solo)
3. Burano & Murano, Italy. (solo)
2. Dolomites, Italy. (solo)
1.Venice, Italy. (solo)

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Thank You for Reading! 
This post is based solely on my honest opinion or personal experience. Feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below!

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