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.
-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.
-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.
-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.”
-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.
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.