Travel Tips

5 things to avoid on one’s first trip to Europe

5 things to avoid on one’s first trip to Europe

Let’s face it, at one time or another we’ve all made those infamous rookie mistakes when traveling. But when it comes to planning one’s first trip to Europe, you want to do it well and look back fondly on your visit. Needless to say you don’t want to have a National Lampoon’s European Vacation kind of experience. So after seven trips to Europe (including one when I was a temporary resident during my semester abroad in Spain), here are five tips I recommend for any first time visitors, ones that will be applicable for most European countries.

-European countries are known for having some of the best cuisines in the world-French, Italian, Spanish. But speaking from firsthand experience, it’s incredibly easy to have some subpar meals, meals so bad you rue the day you ever ate them. But here’s the thing-  do your research in advance whether it be TripAdvisor, guidebooks (my personal favorite), or trusted bloggers. Don’t be one of those people who just wander looking for a place to eat. Because nine times out of ten, those meals are going to be average at best. Avoid those restaurants that are a stone’s throw from famous tourist attractions, especially if people stand at the entrance beckoning you to come in (I think we all know what Anthony Bourdain would call those types of places). Skip those menu of the day deals (the ones where you get a starter, entrée, and dessert for a set price). The fare is not worth the lower cost you’re paying. And in Spain, the dessert will almost always be flan, that is a completely uninspiring and tasteless flan. An easy fix to the research quandary is signing up for a food tour if you’re in a major metropolitan area. These are led by locals and will not only offer you some great food tasting experiences, but you’ll also be taken to places beloved by locals, not just busloads of tourists.

5 things to avoid on one's first trip to Europe

-While the continent of Europe is small compared to North America and Asia (Africa is its own beast in regards to size), many of its countries are still large and many of its cities are nowhere near to each other. A popular first time trip to Europe often includes cities like London, Paris, and Rome. Well, although London and Paris are a quick trip thanks to the Eurostar train, have you looked at a map for Paris and Rome? They are far apart. A train ride will take hours, and with flying it’s always a crap shoot with the possibility of delays, security wait lines etc. It’s so tempting to say, well I’m going to be here for 10 days, I should be able to visit five countries.   Just don’t. You’ll have far fewer pleasant memories because you will have spent most of your time in transit. Not to mention, European cities are some of the most fascinating  in the world. Don’t shortchange any if you don’t have to;  in the end you won’t regret it.

5 things to avoid on one's first trip to Europe

Bruges and Paris are only a couple of hours apart via high speed rail-the perfect pair of cities to visit

-Have a “plan of attack.” For the past year, I’ve created itineraries for my trips. It’s not that I’m anal retentive, but for me, a trip is a fixed period of time, typically I spend a bit of money on it, and I don’t want to squander one precious moment.  By having an itinerary to follow, I’m making efficient use of my time  knowing which museums are open on which days, what time of the day I should go here or do this. Nothing is more disappointing than trying to get train tickets only to find they were all sold out on the day you wanted to go, so you choose another day only to discover that that’s when the city’s biggest tourist attractions are closed.

5 things to avoid on one's first trip to Europe

I saw as much as I did during my relatively short time in Prague thanks to my “plan of attack” aka my itinerary.

-Don’t plan a trip with “societal expectations” in mind. By this I mean, if you truly don’t want to go up in the Eiffel Tower on your trip to Paris, don’t. Tickets are fairly expensive,  not to mention the lines can be long. Spend your time and money doing what you want to see and experience in Europe, not what every travel guidebook and blogger says you simply “must experience.”

5 things to avoid on one's first trip to Europe

While everyone might say you “must” visit the Book of Kells while in Dublin, don’t feel like you have to. I found it a tad disappointing. It also didn’t help being incredibly jet-lagged when trying to gaze at an incredibly small book in an even smaller and more crowded room.

-There are ways to be cheap, but don’t be cheap in terms of where you stay, specifically regarding location. Many European cities are sprawling and while they often have some of the best metro systems in the world, that still doesn’t mean you want to spend most of your trip on the metro or worse, having to do multiple connections to get to an attraction. There are many ways you can travel inexpensively while in Europe (don’t splurge on the luxurious accommodations, shop at grocery stores for some meals, go on a free walking tour), but make sure where you stay is a prime location, one that’s either in close proximity to key attractions or is near to a metro stop that has multiple lines running through it. Dublin is a small city compared to some, but we stayed outside of the city center and while it wasn’t completely bad, it would have been nicer to have avoided that 22 minute walk to and from almost everywhere.

5 things to avoid on one's first trip to Europe

Money you save on cheaper lodging that’s further away from key attractions will be lost in other ways like time and transportation costs. I would always rather pay more but then be close to popular sights and neighborhoods

As with much in life, there are many things in  traveling you learn from experience. But hopefully these tips  will be of benefit from the get-go.   Traveling to Europe for the first time can be slightly overwhelming but if done right, it can also be an experience you’ll always remember.

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5 things to avoid on one's first trip to Europe

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Roberta
    March 7, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    Great article….!
    Concerning food…My husband is a picky eater.
    He didn’t like the tapas in Spain or the paella….
    We had some good fish and salads tho.

    He likes American food….Burgers, pizza…We did these in Spain too!

    • Reply
      Julie
      March 7, 2017 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks Roberta! That’s too bad about the tapas, that’s one of the things I miss most about Spain. I could eat Manchego cheese, Serrano ham, and croquetas every day. As for paella, I always ordered paella de carne, I’m not a big fish person to begin with and just could never stomach eating items whose eyes were still on said creatures 🙂

      It doesn’t matter the nationality, comfort food is comfort food. And I know I ate a burger (or three) myself while living in Spain!

  • Reply
    JoAnn0924
    March 8, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Julie, Great post! If I ever get to Europe I will take your suggestions with me. What changes have you made, if any, since you first traveled to Europe as far as safety is concerned? I would love to see London, Paris, and Rome, but I think I would be terrified to travel now.

    Is it easy to eat vegetarian in Europe? Have you read or seen any books or programs by Rick Steves? If so what do you think of his suggestions? Do they work for the novice traveler?

    • Reply
      Julie
      March 8, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      Thanks JoAnn! Honestly, I do the same as I’ve always done. I’m aware of my surroundings, I don’t knowingly flaunt stuff, bring unnecessary attention to myself, and for the most part since I do so much touring and sightseeing during the day, I’m not really a nightowl when I travel which I know also makes a difference. I think it more boils down, just always be a safe and prudent traveler since you’re more likely to have something happen to you in your daily surroundings.

      I think a vegetarian would do fine in a place like Europe, even taking into account the varied differences in cuisines. I know there were many vegetarians in my program in Spain and that was over a decade ago so I’m sure there’s more stuff now.

      As for guides, Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door is quite popular and I think would be of benefit to first timers. But as a whole, I also love his guidebooks too, very informative and useful!

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