Last year I made one of the best decisions of my life and decided to take (another) semester off from college and backpack around Europe for two months with my best friend. This was my first time, and hers, traveling outside of the United States. As you would imagine we were overly excited, nervous, and had no idea what to expect before we left for this crazy adventure. Although it was the best experience and trip of a lifetime, there were definitely some things I would have done differently and certain things I wish people would have told us before we left. So, I am going to share my top 6 tips/lessons I learned that I wish I would have known before traveling to Europe!
- Eat EVERYTHING.
And I mean everything. Don’t be worried about gaining an extra couple pounds—you will regret not eating that authentic Italian pizza while you’re in Italy. Like who does that?! (yeah, we did that.. and it haunts me.) Even if you are gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, I don’t care.. you still eat the pizza.
Another tip along the lines of eating while you’re in Europe; if you want authentic food from whatever city you’re in, don’t eat on the main strips where they have pictures of food on the menu. The rule we learned (almost near the end of our trip) is to get good authentic food, go at least two streets back from the main square. Also, you don’t tip in Europe! Most places. That would have been a very nice thing to know before we left.
2. You Have To Pay to Use the Bathroom.
Yeah, this one was a shocker that I can’t believe no one warned us about. You have to pay to use public restrooms almost everywhere you go in Europe. I mean it’s only a quarter or fifty cense.. but it just would have been nice to know. Oh and FYI, bathrooms are called water closets and you will see neon signs that say “WC” and not “Restrooms” pointing you to their whereabouts.
3. Wear Pants At St. Peter’s Basilica.
If you plan to go to the St. Peter’s Basilica when in Rome.. wear long pants or something that covers your legs. We almost weren’t allowed in because my best friend was wearing a dress and apparently you cant have leg above the knee showing. BUT, luckily she had a blanket scarf to wrap around herself.. so we got to explore. And I’m so glad we did! Also, if you do go there I would recommend everyone take the stairs to the top.. it’s worth it!
4. Slovaks Love Vodka.
I know this isn’t a stop on most people’s list, but just incase it is.. prepare your liver. My friend had relatives that lived in Slovakia that she wanted to meet for the first time, so we made a pit stop in Jaklovce, Slovakia for a few days. And what no one that had visited there before told us is… every time you meet someone new, they greet you with a shot of vodka and a mound of pastries. And let me tell you.. we met a lot of people. Even on Easter.. you obviously have to celebrate.. so, cheers! We took our first shot at 10 in the morning right after church. Even though Slovakia wasn’t the place we were most excited to go to.. we brought back some of the best memories from it. Since we stayed with her family we were immersed in their culture.. it was so cool and so eye opening. When in Europe, try to get away from the touristy type things and soak up as much of the raw culture as you can!
We were college kids traveling across Europe, so obviously we were traveling on a budget. But one of the biggest regrets we had was not splurging just that once to go hang gliding in Austria, or riding horseback through an Italian vineyard. You’re going to come back broke anyway, so spend the money on some kind of experience. And don’t wait for something better to come along or something “more worth it.” Because you won’t find it and end up at the end of you’re trip without doing any of those cool things you wanted to do.
6. Get Lost.
Looking back, I would have had more days where we didn’t have a plan and just walked around, purposely getting lost. I feel like that’s when we came across some of our best adventures and memories. It’s okay to not stick to the plan.
Overall, the trip was a great success and we made some unforgettable memories. These are just a few small tips that I wish someone would have told me before going and hope they can help someone else as they embark on their trip of a lifetime!
Post by Kelsey Cowan