You’ve probably gone through many travel sites already, trying to get the insider information on where to go, what to see, and how to budget so you can maximize your experience.
Trusting in someone who’s either a native or has lived extensively in Europe is one of the best ways to negotiate such a major undertaking.
However, no matter how much research is involved, Americans are often surprised by some major differences in European countries compared to “back home.”
In this article I want to highlight some differences between Europe and the US and some things that might affect your trip. I hope this will help make your first time in Europe a great experience!
8 Things to Know Before Traveling to Europe
- Most Cars Are Manual
Renting a car is a great way to get around Europe, especially if you’ll be in countries where you’re still driving on the right-hand side of the road.
However, the vast majority of cars in Europe are a manual transmission.
Make sure to check with the car rental agency what type of car you are renting.
And if you’ve never driven a manual before, you probably don’t want to try and learn when you’re abroad. If you can’t find an automatic rental, stick with other forms of transportation.
- The Dollar is Weak in Most Parts of Western Europe
When you’re dealing with euros and pounds, it’s easy to be tempted to think of it as a straight exchange—after all, the numbers are somewhat close.
Doing this can be a huge mistake when you actually check your bank account or credit card.
Unfortunately for us Americans, the dollar is relatively weak, and it’s easy to overspend.
- You May Be in Countries With Multiple Voltage Requirements
When buying a voltage converter for your laptop, phone, charger, etc., remember that there are two types of converters.
Some converters solely make it to where you can plug in the device, and some converters actually change the voltage. You’ll want the latter.
Still, different European countries have different voltage requirements.
Find out what each country requires (a simple Google search will give you that information) and seek out converters that are as multi-use as possible. They will be more costly, but well worth it.
Also, keep in mind that there’s some wiggle room with voltage. As long as you’re within ten volts, your tech will be safe.
- Elevators and Other Basics for People With Disabilities Aren’t Always Readily Available
Unless you seek out these accommodations, chances are you’ll be staying in hotels without elevators or might find yourself struggling with public transportation that isn’t wheelchair-friendly.
Every country is different regarding requirements for those with a disability. Plan accordingly.
- Trains Are Often the Way to Go
Most Americans don’t use trains for transportation, except in some key areas. But that is completely different in Europe.
Taking a train is often affordable, accessible, and whisks you from one heart of a city to another.
In some cases, it might look more expensive than a flight at first, but dig a little deeper. Airports are on the outskirts of cities and it can be very expensive to get from the airport to where you’re staying.
Plus, trains give you the opportunity to see Europe in a different light.
If this is going to be your first time in Europe I highly recommend at least including some train travel!
Another popular way to get from one European country to another is with a bus service called Flix Bus. It’s a low-budget option and often not as comfortable as trains, but it can be a really cheap way to travel and a nice way to see different parts of Europe.
- Cash is Still Important in Europe
If we are talking about things to know before traveling to Europe for the first time, this is an important one!
It might seem like you can use a card absolutely anywhere, but that isn’t always the case in Europe.
Especially if you want to shop a little off the grid (like buying art from someone painting on the sidewalk) or find yourself in more remote locations, cash becomes important.
Carrying cash is a good idea, but avoid the costly exchange offices popping up everywhere.
Your bank at home will be able to order currency for any country you’ll be visiting for no charge. You can then exchange it back, also at no charge, when you return. Ask for small bills and make use of the safe at your hotel.
You’ll also find ATMs throughout Europe so don’t bring too much cash as you can always take out more once you’re in Europe.
- Global Entry is Worth It
This isn’t just for traveling to Europe, but if you’ve been on the fence about getting Global Entry, know that it’s well worth it.
For around $100 you can skip the long lines of checking into the airport and going through customs.
If you have Global Entry, you automatically also have TSA pre-check.
However, depending on where you live, it can take a while to get an appointment. Global Entry now offers interviews for US residents upon arrival from an international flight as long as you’ve completed the initial application. It’s well worth checking out.
- You’ll Probably Tip Too Much
Tipping is expected in most European countries for similar services as in the US, but the average is lower.
In restaurants, about 10 percent is to be expected.
Americans are known for over-tipping in Europe and you certainly won’t be turned away. However, there’s no reason to be taken advantage of. Research tipping averages in each European country.