May 04, 2015

As I've said before on this blog, traveling is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.  Why collect material things can you can collect memories? Why buy clothes, shoes, and makeup when you can collect experiences? Living in another culture - even if it's for a small duration - can really open your eyes. People with the most open minds have traveled the most miles. Traveling can even help your resume and boost the soft skills: respect, etiquitte, culture, manners, social skills Every competitor for your future job has similar portfolios and internships - it's the soft skills that make the difference.

So, when you do decide to expand your horizons, it's good to do your research and know the customs of the place you're traveling. Since I've traveled to Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, England, and Greece in the past four years, you could say I know a bit about European culture and traveling tips. Below is my guide to traveling in Europe including tips on packing, flying, food, manners,  money, and recommended destinations. enjoy!

1. Packing

How much you pack really depends on how long your trip is. However, I would stick with the golden rule and pack light. I just traveled to Greece for a week, and I brought:
  • 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of leggings
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • bra, underwear, socks, tights
  • one t shirt and one pair of shorts for sleeping
  • one jumpsuit, one romper, and one dress
  • four blouses
  • two cardigans
  • four pairs of shoes
  • camera
  • iPad
  • two books
  • passport
  • wallet
  • toiletries
  • curling wand
  • euros
  • plug adapters and converters
  • hair brush
  • makeup
As for outfits, I used to pack and plan each outfit out daily. I did that for my big eurotrip in summer of 2012. However, this time I just threw together a bunch of separate pieces that I knew would work together. I have the worst luck with outfit planning. Whenever I plan an outfit, the weather is never suitable for it. Also, I know the spring weather in the Mediterranean is temper mental, so I wanted to have layering pieces. So, you could either plan your outfits, or you could play by ear like me.
The absolute essentials for traveling in Europe are: 
  • your plug adapters/converters which vary depending on where in Europe your going.
  • A small wallet or wristlet to carry euros, travel credit card, and student ID (many tour places do student discounts). As for your passport, I kept mine in a safe place in my carry-on, then locked mine up in the safe in my hotel room. You'll only need it when flying, nowhere in Europe cards.
  • An umbrella
  • A jacket/light jacket depending on where your traveling
The other biggest tip I can give for packing is make sure your luggage is way below fifty pounds on the way there. Fifty pounds is the threshold before airlines start charging you extra to check your luggage. This way, you'll have room to put souvenirs in your luggage. Also, bring an empty bag to take souvenirs as your "personal item" on the way home.

2. Money

In Europe, cash is the way to go. It's better to be safe - as in carry more cash, than to be sorry. Where cards are accepted depends on where you travel and the economy of where you travel. For example, in London, cards are widely accepted. However, in Greece, it's essentially all euros. I basically only used my card at Starbucks, H&M, and Zara. If you're traveling out to a little village or island, the chances that they take cards are slim. 

Don't be fooled by signs that advertise the store accepts cards. Mini story: my friends and I were at a souvenir store by the Acropolis, and we went in because we saw there was 50% off and they took cards. I was running low on euro, as was my friend, and we were adamant on using cards. She asked the Russian store-owner if she could use her card, after I eyed her card machine, and she owner replied, "Eh... no euro?" My friend had euro, but just didn't want to use it. Between the language barrier and the owners persistence, we just ended up using Euros. Withdraw from any ATM you see because, you don't want to be without.

Here are the options for money while traveling:
  • Converting dollars into currency (euros, pounds, yen, etc)
  • Travel credit cards
  • Travel debit cards
  • American debit cards
Here is what I would recommend in order: option 1, option 2, option 3, option 4. I brought $600 to Athens, $400 was in Euros and $200 was on a travel debit card that I ended up taking out at an ATM anyway. Travel credit cards are also an options, but I don't know much about them. Never ever use the "exchange" kiosks at airports or on the streets  - the exchange rates and fees will screw you over so hard. Some people prefer to take money out on ATMs using their American debit cards, but I can't even with the fees. Plus, the currency from dollars to euros at ATMs confuses me. 

3. Manners

I never understood the stereotype of lazy, loud Americans until I've traveled to Europe. You can easily spot a European from an American tourist. Europeans are very well-dressed even when they're just walking around doing errands. They're usually dressed in darker clothes, except for their adidas sneakers. They're also usually smoking a cigarette. Here are some major differences, and manner notes I've noticed walking around European cities
  • Some people revert to driving street bikes or motor scooters because the price of petroleum is so high but even on those THEY DRIVE LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!
  • They will walk into you like it's nothing. But that's just because unlike us Americans, they don't have a "personal bubble."
  • They're really intimate
  • They're also really social. For example, when eating out, it's rude not to pour your neighbors water for them. Dining out is the biggest form of entertainment. Also, when purchasing anything - ferry tickets, massages, espressos, they recommend you pay all together. This threw my friends and I for a loop, however that just lead to us paying for each others coffees or dinners. See? Social and intimate.
  • In, Europe, it's rude for the servers to give your table the check. Unlike in the U.S. they don't want to kick you out of their restaurant right away. They want you to relax, digest, and socialize. You have to flag your waiter down for your check. 

4. Food

New place, new food. One of my favorite things to learn about a new culture whilst traveling is learning what they stuff their faces with. I've noticed that since traveling, and coming from a heritage with great mediterranean food, I find myself mainly eating dishes inspired by European backgrounds in America. European food is very different than American food. It's altogether more fresh and healthy. It's hard to find highly processed food in Europe. The food in each country is based off of what the early settlers of that region ate, and what the climate makes for. The mediterranean climate in Greece calls for olive oil, lamb, eggplant, cucumbers, dill, yogurt, pita, and tzaziki. In Ireland, they obviously love their meat and potatoes. Italian thrive off of their pizza, pasta, meat, and wine. The English eat a similar diet to the Irish, but they have Asian and Indian influences as well. Here what to expect in every country, meal by meal.

In the words of my German tour guide, breakfast is a cappuccino and a cigarette. However the breakfast spreads I've seen all over Europe include a charcuterie section of cold cuts and cheeses, all types of bread rolls, croissants for days, cereal, roasted potatoes and vegetables, bacon, ham, sausages, hard boiled eggs, eggs over easy, and yogurt.

Lunch in Europe is best enjoyed in a cafe - just like breakfast. My favorite lunches I've had include paninis and cappuccinos. These paninis are essentially whole baguettes grilled with anything you'd like in them, however my favorites have been one in London with tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto, and and one in Greece with feta, artichokes, mushrooms, and tomatoes. In England, we had cornish pasties for lunch one day while we were visiting the Roman Baths. However, some days in Italy we couldn't resist and stuck to gelato for lunch.
I looked forward to dinner every night. In London, we ate bangers 'n' mash one night, Wagamama one night, and traditional Indian cuisine another. My second time in London, with my mother, we ate at Blumpkin, Marissa Hermer's of Ladies of London's restaurant, and we enjoyed the fingerling potatoes and toffee english pudding. All I remember about dinner in Germany was a weird potato dumpling. In Italy, our a la carte meal began at eight PM. It was salad, then beef, then pasta. The food in France was the best, obviously. Whether it was a crepe by the San river, or a salad at a local restaraunt, it was to die for. However, the dinner in Greece at the Tavernas were obviously my favorite. I ate Moussaka (eggplant and meat pie) one night, lemon chicken one night, lamb chops one night, pistitsio another, and we accompanied it with tzaziki sauce every night. 

5. Recommendations

Now that you're locked and loaded with this information, where to go? Here are my top landmarks I've visited
  • The Roman Baths in Bath, England
  • Stonehenge in England
  • The Roman Colloseum
  • Versailles in France
  • The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
  • The Acropolis in Athens, Greece
  • The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece
  • The Tower of Lucerne in Lucerne, Switzerland
  • Vatican City, Italy
Thanks for reading this, I really hope this helps anyone looking to venture out to Europe, or anywhere!

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