Are you planning a trip to Europe?
Awesome, you're going to love it!
I prepared this ridiculously long guide packed with travel tips from bloggers who are nothing short of experts when it comes to traveling in Europe.
See, the Old Continent is home to some of the most popular destinations for travelers.
And because it is extremely diverse and culturally rich, each country will provide a different experience. That's what makes Europe so attractive, I think.
Whether you're a budget traveler or not, traveling solo or with friends, these travel tips for a trip to Europe will help you make the most of this experience. Obviously, I recommend that you read everything, BUT if your looking for a specific bit of info, use the table of content below:
What to Do in Europe: Sightseeing & Activities
Transportation: How to Get Around in Europe?
What is the Best Time to Visit Europe?
Accommodation in Europe: Where to Stay?
Food: What You Must Eat when Visiting Europe
Money: Tips to Save Money When Traveling in Europe
Languages: How to be Understood in Europe?
Internet & Mobile in Europe
Visa & Permits in Europe
Health & Hygiene in Europe
Thefts & Scams: How to Protect Yourself When Traveling Across Europe?
Is Europe Gay-Friendly?
General Travel Tips When Visiting Europe
Now, what can you expect from the complete guide?
Well, these travel tips should not only help you save money, but also help you make the smart decisions during your trip, and travel better.
So let's dive in!
Are European capital cities overrated?
If you're planning a trip to Europe, I'm sure that it's to one of the beautiful capital cities.
They attract the majority of tourists throughout Europe.
There is no denying that each of them has a lot to offer. After all, there is a reason why cities like Paris, Rome, London, Amsterdam, or Madrid are always in the top places to visit in Europe. As Geri from When Woman Travels points out, "it's Paris we are talking about! The most romantic city in the world! The city of light, fashion, culture, science and the Sun King Louis XIV among many other things".
"Europe's capital cities all have their highs and lows, but no other continent offers travellers' such a wealth of culture and sights within such short distances," TripAdvisor spokesman Luke Fredberg said in a statement.
Each one has a different atmosphere, a different style. There is always something to do and discover in a major city, beyond the obvious tourist attractions.
With that being said, know that this popularity comes with a double-edge. Some cities are often qualified as overrated, including the extremely popular London and Paris. They received respectively 20 and 16.1 million international visitors in 2017.
The problem is that we have built such a hype around these destinations that it's sometimes hard not to feel let down when actually discovering the city. Not that they are not beautiful, but we simply have built too high expectations that they can't measure with.
To take the example of Paris, as highlighted by Sonia and Ankur from Ticking the Bucketlist, "pictures [...] always show the glitz and glamour associated with a few monuments – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Notre Dame. None of the pictures show the homeless on the streets, the poverty and the begging that is evident even on a cold winter night".
Even the food in Paris has disappointed many a traveler, "especially in the popular tourist areas", says Geri. As a woman often traveling alone, she also felt a lack of safety in what many people see as "the best city in the Old Continent".
Bottom line, the major European cities are worth the detour for everything they have to offer, but they shouldn't always be your go-to destination.
Fall in love with the lesser known European cities
You will be greatly rewarded for daring to go off the beaten path in Europe, and exploring the less popular cities. Maria from Travelling Buzz recommends going "beyond the usual tourist destinations and look for a place that is not an obvious choice."
Some small towns lying in the shadow of a big and sometimes overrated city are really worth the trip. That's how Maria fell in love with the beautiful town of Mijas in the south of Spain. "It is often overlooked by travelers for more known places such as Sevilla and Granada".
Mijas, in Spain (Source: Travelling Buzz)
One thing to keep in mind is that the culture, atmosphere, and general vide in most capital cities is very different than the rest of the country. For a more authentic dive in a country's culture, your best bet is to head to lesser-known places.
If you're planning a trip to Belgium, Brussels in probably your first pick. But the beautiful Bruges will undoubtedly charm you. Maria recommends visiting this UNESCO Heritage Site that some nicknamed the "Venice of the North". You could do the same as Maria and discover the city by doing a Eurotrip!
Bruges, in Belgium (Source: Travelling Buzz)
This rule applies at country-scale as well: France, Spain, and Italy are the most visited European countries, with respectively 82.6, 75.6, and 52.4 million international tourist arrivals in 2016.
But some smaller and less talked about countries have a lot to offer: Croatia's coast is a perfect summer destination. Bulgaria is perfect for budget travelers all year round, with both the seaside and popular ski resorts. Central and Eastern Europe in general are loved by travelers. You might be the next one!
Traveling in Europe by plane
To go from one country to the next in Europe, taking the plane is an obvious choice for many travelers.
For budget travelers, there are a lot of low-cost airlines which operates flights across the whole region, such as Ryanair, Wizz Air or easyJet. Their prices are very competitive: it's not so uncommon to find a flight from Berlin, Germany to Sofia, Bulgaria for only about 25€, if not less. If you know how, it's not so hard to score cheap flights.
If your time is precious, traveling by a plane is a good option. Especially when you need to travel to a country that isn't a neighbor of your current location (e.g. going from Bulgaria to Spain).
Air traffic is actually constantly growing, particularly in Europe. As a result, an increasing number of flights are delayed or canceled. Thankfully, the EU Regulation 261/2004 protects air passenger rights: depending on the length of your flight, you may be entitled to up to 600€ of flight delay compensation if you reach your final destination 3 hours late or more!
Has your flight been delayed or canceled in the past 6 years? It only takes 3 min!
Has your flight been delayed or canceled in the past 6 years?
It only takes 3 min!
Traveling in Europe by train
If on the contrary you enjoy taking your time, consider traveling by train instead. Maggie and Michael from The World Was Here First are big advocates of slow travel, and as such, they prefer traveling overland every chance they get.
Especially in Western Europe, trains are a fantastic alternative to planes. Some offer different classes, First and Economy, as you would find on a plane. Most companies have special fares for children and the elderly.
Rail passes are a great way to save money if you're planning on traveling by train across several countries. However, while they can offer a great level of comfort, trains are rarely the most budget option, especially if you're buying one ticket at a time, to go from point to point.
In Western Europe, you'll often be able to choose between a fast train or a slower one. For instance, in France, TGVs are the fastest trains (and most expensive ones), while RERs are usually slower (and cheaper).
Traveling in Europe by bus
Traveling by bus across Europe is actually a good option when you keep in mind that the continent isn't that big after all.
"It also happens that, especially in these regions, buses can be a lot faster and often more comfortable than trains." Michael, theworldwasherefirst.com
Perhaps counter-intuitively, buses in the Balkan and Baltic regions are actually a better option than trains. While the train itineraries and trains themselves have been barely improved since their implementation, bus companies offer a very decent level of service.
Budget travelers will even consider taking the bus to go from one country to the next in Western Europe as well. Companies like Eurolines or FlixBus offer a multitude of itineraries throughout Europe. A Berlin-Paris bus ticket costs 50% less than a train ticket. Sometimes even less!
Buses are also a perfect means of transport within a country, and again, often offer more competitive prices than the train. But it's not the only option.
Other ways of going around in Europe
Ride-sharing services are getting increasingly popular across Europe. "Blablacar is a good option and is widely used in Central and Eastern Europe. It is particularly good if you want to meet locals!" Michael says.
Travelers use them mostly to go from point A to point B within a country: it's the perfect way to meet new people, split the costs of the trip, and reduce your environmental impact: it's more ecological to be 4 people in 1 car than 2 people in 2 cars, if you're going to the same place!
If your itinerary includes crossing the sea, ferries are an option that few think about when planning their trip. Rome2Rio is a great travel planning tool that suggest multiple itineraries for you to get to your destination, suggesting routes by the air, the road, or the sea.
Depending on which country you plan on visiting and the type of activities you want to do, the best time to visit Europe varies greatly.The good news is: there is always a good time to visit the Old Continent!
What is the best time to go to the beach in Europe?
From June to the end of September. This is when the weather is at its best in most countries with a seaside. Earlier or later than this, you might find the water a bit cold.
Going to the beach in June and September is the best option, since you will both enjoy the warm weather and avoid the crowds of July and August.
The most popular destinations to go to the beach are France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. But once again, do not neglect the other ones: Bulgaria's seaside is worth the trip!
In Europe, you can choose between swimming in the ocean or in the sea. If you're planning on surfing, the ocean is the best option. Portugal, Spain, and the southwest of France have dedicated spots for surfers.
What is the best time to go skiing in Europe?
From the end of November to mid-April. Resorts dedicated to winter sports have their peak season in December and February. If you'd rather avoid the crowd, go there mid-January or March.
While winter sports are usually expensive, budget travelers shouldn't exclude them altogether. In off-peak season, rental equipment and lift passes are usually more affordable. Again, Bulgaria's mountain landscapes a lot to offer: Bansko is the most popular destination, with tourists from all Europe coming there. But budget-minded travelers will prefer Borovets. Maria recommends taking a day trip there from Sofia.
Other very popular destinations include the Alps and Pyrenees, in France, Italy, and Switzerland, or Austria.
What is the best time to visit Europe with a good weather?
Continental Europe enjoys a pleasant weather from mid-April to the end of September. The warmest temperatures are reached in the summer, in July and August.
It might even be too hot at this time of year in the Mediterranean countries. It's best to visit them from May to June or in September, if you're sensitive to heat.
In Northern Europe, July and August are not only the hottest months, they're also those when the days last longer than the rest of the year. To discover the beauty of Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark, consider a trip in the summer.
How is winter in Europe?
More or less cold, depending on your precise location. The low season is characterized by freezing temperatures in the north of Europe (on the bright side, it's the best time of year to see the beautiful Northern Lights).
Closer to the Mediterranean, temperatures from November to the end of February are usually milder. It's actually a good time to visit these destinations without the hordes of tourists.
The rest of Europe is generally cold. However, it's still a good time to head to Europe, as prices are lower than during the peak season.
Europe offers a wide range of lodging options, from the cheap hostel to the luxurious boutique hotel. Where you choose to stay depends on your comfort needs, your budget, and who you are traveling with.
Hotels in Europe
The go-to for travelers unwilling to compromise on comfort, hotels in Europe usually offer a good service and are particularly convenient. "I find that it is easy and quick to book hotel online on booking.com", says Geri. "They have filters that I use to minimize the choices according to my budget and preferred type of accommodation and amenities".
Hotels are also more flexible with the check-in time. Platforms like booking.com let you book a room now and pay only once you're at the hotel. They also make it easy to cancel a booking in case your plans change. The cherry on the cake: some hotels offer transportation to and from the airport or train station.
This level of comfort comes at a price, usually higher than that of a hostel. But if you avoid large chains and 5-star hotel, you can surely find a good hotel at a reasonable price.
Note that if you do want to stay at large chains and prestigious hotels, you're in for a treat, with an unmatched customer service! Booking your stay with a credit card which lets you earn points and subscribing to the hotel's membership program are easy ways to make your future stays cheaper.
Hostels in Europe
Hostels are a very divisive topic among travelers. Some, like Geri, rarely use hostels, because of "the lack of privacy and quiet".
But for others, they are a great way to save money on one of the most costly expenditure item in your budget. Hostelworld and booking.com each have many properties in inventory, especially in larger cities.
The main criteria for choosing a hostel are the ratings and reviews from past travelers. Do not book a hostel where ratings are lower than 8/10 or 4 stars our of 5. With the amount of choice, you can even afford to be more demanding.
The other thing to look out for is whether the hostel provides a locker where you can store your things when you're going around. You should be able to lock it with your own lock. Don't hesitate to contact the owners before booking to make sure that they do offer this option. The reason for this is that in hostels, you share your room with several strangers (except if you travel ad a group and book the whole room). This is a great opportunity to meet new people, exchange stories.
The common areas in hostels have a great atmosphere and the conviviality is, with the price, one of the primary reasons travelers like staying at a hostel. James and Susan believe that they are maybe the best type of accommodation for budget travelers and backpackers in Europe.
"They’re inexpensive, they’re located in every European city, and they’re full of other young travelers. Competition between hostels has grown over the past 10-15 years, so the quality has risen considerably."
Prices for a bed vary from one country to another: in Eastern Europe, it isn't hard to find a hostel for about less than 10€. In France or Germany, it's usually above 20€, especially in touristic cities.
Using the sharing economy to find a place to stay in Europe
Over the past years, the sharing economy has grown more popular, and the hospitality industry is the perfect example of that.
Airbnb is at the forefront of the trend: with over 3 million listings worldwide, Airbnb hosts have welcomed more than 200 million guests in their home. If you're not a member yet, you can get 25€ as travel credit here.
That's the point of the sharing economy: you share what you own with someone who needs it. In this case, you share your home with a traveler looking for a place to stay. As a host, it's a fantastic way to make money. As a traveler, it's perfect to benefit from the comfort of a home, where you can prepare your own meals. Geri likes using Airbnb when she's traveling with friends or family.
"This not only diminishes the expenses but also makes us stay together and have more fun cooking and eating."
Airbnb is very popular in Europe and offer some serious competition to hotel owners because of the comfort they provide, especially in larger cities. You can find all sort of lodgings there, from a single room, a whole house... even treehouses and igloos!
Budget travelers looking for meaningful connections and a free place to stay use Couchsurfing. The platform lets you contact a local ready to host you for free. Now, be careful: the hosts do this because they want to connect with you, exchange stories - and also because they know how expensive it can be to find a lodging while on the road. Don't take Couchsurfing as just a way to sleep somewhere for free!
Keep also in mind that some travelers have had bad experiences with ill-intentioned hosts. Be careful and check the reviews before booking a place, especially if you're a woman traveling alone.
As James and Susan from The Savvy Backpacker say, Couchsurfing "gives you the chance to really meet the locals and to see parts of the city that 99% of tourists never experience. It also gives you the chance to meet people on a deeper level and hopefully you’ll make life-long friends". Make sure to read their guide before using Couchsurfing.
Camping in Europe
Legislations regulating camping are different from one country to the next in Europe. It is a great way to save money when traveling to a destination where the cost of life is high, like Iceland.
Camping is usually regulated in Mediterranean countries where travelers want to sleep at the beach. While wild camping is usually frowned upon, there are tons of campsites providing decent amenities, including toilets and showers, which you can access with your car or RV.
From an environmental standpoint, camping is one of the best option. There are over 10,000 campsites ready to welcome travelers in Europe. But to make sure that you keep your ecological footprint low, make sure to leave nothing behind and leave the place as you found it, underlines Eric from True North Athletics.
For more places to stay when traveling in Europe, check out this guide
I'm one of those people who believe that tasting the local food is one of the best ways to experience a new culture. And I'm not just talking about the fact of eating itself: seeing how they prepare it, where the products come from, how they eat themselves, where they go eat outside etc. All of this can tell you a lot about a culture.
With that being said, you should definitely try some European food during your trip instead of eating only what you are used to. It's hard to identify a "typical European dish": they vary from region to region and country to country. Even within a country, local specialties are different!
What to eat in Western Europe?
A trip to the UK wouldn't be complete without trying an English breakfast. It's true that the region isn't famous for tasty food - but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give a try to Scottish haggis or Irish stew! Pip Jones from Pip and the City realized that there is much more to Irish cuisine than "the clichéd images of bowls of watery mash and a pint of Guinness"
French cuisine is renown worldwide and is often branded as luxurious (also due to the image of French wine). But a lot of local dishes are perfectly affordable and equally tasty. You don't need to go to a 5-star restaurant to try a delicious beef Bourguignon. Each region also has their local cheese: France has over 350 types!
Holland is also well-known for its cheese: they have tons of different sorts of gouda. If you're heading to Belgium, try the fries and the waffles too!
What to eat in Eastern Europe?
Your first association with Eastern Europe might be vodka, but rest assured that the cuisine boasts much more than that. Banitsa is a delicious Bulgarian pastry baked in the oven, filled with cheese. The country also has a special sauce called lutenitsa, made out of red peppers and tomatoes.
Many people in Eastern Europe drink ayran, a sort of liquid and salty yogurt. They also have several traditional soups, like the Russian borshch.
You can't leave the region without trying the different types of meatball and sausage. Several dishes including meat are influenced by Turkey. In the summer, salads are on every table to fight the heat. Many include tomatoes, cucumbers, and white cheese. Some will add olives (in Greece for instance).
Check out Maria's post on what you can eat in Sofia, Bulgaria to have a better idea of what Eastern European cuisine looks like.
What to eat in Northern Europe?
It's hard to find dishes from this region when traveling abroad. Yet, the cuisine is delicious, especially in the sweets and fish departments!
Sweden and Finland use salmon in their traditional dishes. The Gravlax is a Swedish specialty: it's a "raw salmon fillet marinated in a crust of coarse salt, sugar, herbs, and vodka". In Finland, they cook the fish as a soup, Lohikeitto.
For desserts, give in to the Danish pancakes, Aebleskiver, or Multekrem a "traditional dessert that you will find on most Norwegian tables at Christmas".
What to eat in Southern Europe?
Italy has what many call the best cuisine in the world. Who doesn't love pizzas and pastas? But the country's cuisine is infinitely richer than these two popular dishes! Rachelle from The Travel Bite recommends that you visit Reggio Emilia, where they produce the delicious parmigiano Reggiano cheese and herbed pumpkin ravioli.
The southeastern part of France and the city of Marseille are praised for the seafood. The "bouillabaisse" is the most local dish you can find there. The same goes for Greece, which offers a wide choice of seafood, especially in the summer.
Spain has its delicious paellas and tapas - which you can make yourself pretty easily: Elizabeth of Compass and Fork has 5 easy tapas recipes to try at home.
On the sweet side, I can't recommend the Portuguese pastel de nata enough. And the Italian gelato. Obviously.
What to eat in Central Europe?
You will fall for the cheese in Switzerland. If you're heading there, you must try the traditional Swiss Fondue. Or you can make it yourself, like Annette from Bucket List Journey.
Dishes with meat are very popular in Central Europe, from wursts in Germany to schnitzel in Austria, or delicious pork knuckle. Vienna, the Austrian capital, offers a good idea of what Central Europe has to offer. Yaya and Llyord from Hand Luggage Only put up a list of 40 restaurants to try there, recommended by the locals.
But these countries don't lag behind when it comes to sweets! The Czech palacinky are delicious pancakes filled with jam and fruits. Similar are the Slovenian Štruklji, crepes with cheese and jam.
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free food in Europe
Traveling on a restrictive diet can be extremely complicated, especially in regions where meat is king, like Eastern Europe. Thankfully, in most of Europe, you shouldn't have too much trouble to find a restaurant offering vegan and/or vegetarian food.
The first thing I'd recommend that you do is download the HappyCow app. Covering over 185, it finds vegan and vegetarian restaurants near you. When none is around, the app will recommend restaurants that have meals suitable for your diet on their menu.
As an alternative, Kristen of Hopscotch the Globe suggests to cook your own meals. But even in Eastern Europe, she was able to find some meals suitable to her diet:
"Some of the most delicious meals I consumed in these countries are in fact vegan and gluten free! In Poland, you need to try Polish cabbage rolls in tomato sauce stuffed with rice and mushrooms. If you're in Slovakia, make sure to order gluten free potato flatbread. You can't leave Hungary without trying vegan goulash. The potato and wild mushroom soup in Czech cannot be missed."
It might require an extra effort, but you won't be starving when traveling to Europe on a vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free diet.
While many European countries are part of the Eurozone and therefore use the Euro as a common currency, others still have their national currency. There are currently 28 different ones.
Where to travel?
Especially in Western and Northern Europe, the cost of life is high, and it might seem hard to travel in Europe on a budget. Still, there are ways to save money and avoid spending a fortune going around.
But if you're on a tight budget, aim for countries out of the Eurozone instead.
Find free entertainment
As Maria from Travelling Buzz noticed, "Europe has amazing travel opportunities". Whether it is for transportation or visiting a local attraction, students, seniors, or EU citizens under 26 will often be eligible to discounted rates.
"Almost every country introduces discounted rates for museums. [...] Check out the official websites of the places you visit before you go and look if you can save some money" Maria, travellingbuzz.com
Ask the local tourism office or the locals about free events like open-air concerts. And don't exclude going to the beach or talking a walk in the park: that's free!
To discover a city's landmark, I recommend that you check if there is a Free Tour. That's what I do in most capital city I visit, and so far, it's always been worth it.
Withdrawing or exchanging money in Europe?
As a general rule, withdraw cash from ATMs rather than exchanging money. And do so only at bank ATMs, for your safety. Do not change money at the airport in particular, where fees are at their highest.
What will help you save more money?
Consider cooking your own meals from time to time: the locals don't eat out for every meal, and neither should you! It's cheaper to buy groceries than dining at the restaurant. Try restaurants for lunch, when they have a dedicated menu which is usually cheaper.
Europe is a culturally rich continent, and the amount of languages spoken there is a perfect example. The European Union alone has 24 official and working languages. The roots of these idioms are extremely varied: Slavic, Romance, Germanic, Hellenic, Baltic, etc. Even the alphabets can be totally different (the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets for instance).
In most countries, you shouldn't have too much trouble to be understood when speaking English. In capital cities, most people have at least a basic understanding of English, especially young people and workers in contact with clients.
You are much less likely to be scammed if the locals see that you speak the language. You might even pass as one of them! Your relations with them will actually be much more enjoyable if they see that you have made the effort to learn their language.
Learning a country's language is a way of better understanding its culture too. Some of them are very proud and attached to their national language - not to mention the regional ones like Catalan or Basque.
Bottom line, you should be fine by speaking English, but knowing a few words of the local language or a popular one like Spanish, German, or Russian, would make your trip easier.
Getting internet access in Europe has become relatively easy: as Michael of The World Was Here First points out, "a lot of European cities have public Wi-Fi that you can access when you're out and about and then there are always cafes and hostels/hotels that will also have internet access".
It means that as long as you need 24/7 internet access, you shouldn't have to much trouble by relying on Wi-Fi. As he suggests, there are several apps allowing you to download maps and use them offline. These are some of our favorite travel apps to download before your trip.
You absolutely need to have internet access at any time? A recent change in EU laws has made it so that mobile operators aren't allowed to charge you extra roaming fees in other EU countries. That's why if you need to get a mobile SIM and have internet access on your phone, Michael recommends that you buy a local SIM card in Europe.
Long stay visa & Residence permit in Europe
To visit an EU country for more than 90 days, a long-stay visa is sometimes necessary. In addition to this, some countries require that you also apply for a residence permit.
To apply for a long-stay visa, most countries require the following documents:
- A travel document (passport)
- Documents proving the purpose of the intended stay (e.g. work contract, school enrollment etc.)
- Proof of financial resources
- Sickness insurance
- A medical certificate
- Your police record
Make sure to check the complete list on the website of the relevant authority of the country that you want to visit.
Once you have your long-stay visa or resident permit from one of the EU countries member of the Schengen area, you are allowed to travel freely within this area "for up to 90 days during a 180 day period".
Note that Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and the UK are not included in the Schengen area.
- "If you hold a long-stay visa or a residence permit from one of these 6 countries and wish to travel to a Schengen area country for less than 90 days, you will generally need to apply for a Schengen visa."
- "If you have a long-stay visa or residence permit from a Schengen area country, you may travel for less than 90 days to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, while you may need a national visa to travel to the UK and Ireland."
Read the original and find more information regarding the exact country that you plan on visiting on this page.
If the sole purpose of your trip to Europe is to "engage in a working activity commonly ordained by the Company Institution inside the Schengen Zone", you may apply to a Working (Employment) Schengen Visa / Residence Permit.
You can apply after entering the Schengen area without a visa if you are an EU citizen or a citizen of the following countries: USA, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland. If you come from another country, you must first apply for a residence permit.
You will need the following documents:
- One photo (passport format)
- Passport (with at least two blank pages) and copies of previous visas, valid for at least 3 months prior to your departure
- Copy of the flight reservation
- Travel medical insurance policy (covering any medical emergency with hospital care and travel back to your native country due to medical reasons)
- 2 application forms
- Proof of Accommodation
- Employment contract
Read the original here.
25 EU member states also issue the EU Blue Card, which is a work permit for "highly-qualified non-EU citizens". It was so named by reference to the USA's Green Card and the blue color of the European flag.
Denmark, Ireland, The United Kingdom, Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Switzerland do not deliver the EU Blue Card.
Do I need vaccines for Europe?
European countries have few infectious diseases. You don't need more than the routine vaccines:
- Flu vaccine
- TDaP vaccine: for protection against Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis
- MMR vaccine: for protection against Measles, Mumps and Rubella
Some countries do require a bit more preparation, if you want to be extra careful. Check out this page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information.
However, don't expect the same level of preparation as a trip to Africa or South America would require for instance.
Universal Health Care in Europe
Most European countries offer high-quality medical care. It's something you might have expected especially from Western and Northern Europe, especially in the UK, France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries.
Rest assured that should you get sick or injured in Eastern Europe, you will still be in very capable hands. Nomadlist rates most European capitals' health care system at least "okay".
Travelers visiting Europe can benefit from the Universal Health Care system. It means that when you get sick or injured, you have access to treatment, even as a foreigner. For minor ailments, small injuries and common diseases like a cold, you just need to find a pharmacy. Most capital cities have some that are open 24/7.
Not all doctors and pharmacists speak English, but most do. Pharmacists will be able to diagnose your fever, sore throat, stomach pains, and other conditions of the sort, and prescribe medication without you needing to go to the doctor.
Consider going to a clinic if you feel like your condition requires a bit more attention. It might be free or require a small fee from your pocket. In such cases, make sure to ask for a copy of the bill, as your insurance might refund you.
What to do in cases of Emergency?
While your first reflex might be do dial 911, in Europe, you want to compose the 112. It is the European Union's equivalent: "it will connect you to emergency services, such as police, fire, and ambulance services".
It is a free number that could save your life in cases of emergency, so make sure to write it down somewhere. You can call from anywhere, a mobile phone as well as a payphone. The operator should speak English, in addition to the local language.
Alternatively, go to the hospital, where they have an Emergency service. The cost of a visit to the emergency room varies from free to expensive, depending on your condition and your location. If you subscribed to a travel insurance (as you should), call them as soon as possible: they will likely be able to sort out the expenses directly with the hospital, so you don't have to spend all your money.
The restrooms in Europe
While most countries use toilets with a throne, it's not so uncommon to find "Turkish toilets" in Eastern Europe, especially in public ones. If you've never used them, you will undoubtedly be surprised! You need to squat to use them. And if it's any comfort, know that it's better for your health.
Many public toilets are not free: you need to pay a small fee to use them. To be honest, I hate using those: even though you pay, they're disgusting more often than not. My pro tip? Use those of the place where you're staying or the restaurant where your stop to take a bite. You're supposed to order something to use them for free, but I've never been turned down when I was using them without ordering anything.
Are there pickpockets in Europe?
Like everywhere else, there are pickpockets in Europe. Thefts occur most often in crowds: be particularly vigilant during big events and while taking public transportation.
You'd be surprised how organized pickpockets are. As James and Susan point out, "most pickpockets work in teams. One person distracts you with a map or something similar, and the other person swipes your stuff. Groups of little kids are also used as distractions."
Make sure that your wallet and valuable belongings are close to you. When staying at a hostel, keep your stuff in a locker. As mentioned above, don't stay at hostels that don't provide lockers.
Protect yourself against ATM fraud
Some thieves have devices that they attach to ATM, allowing them to get access to your credit card details. Now, this is a pretty advanced technique, but the best way to avoid being robbed this way is to withdraw only from bank ATMs rather than one in the middle of nowhere.
As obvious as it seems, hide the pad when composing your PIN code. Should your card be "eaten" by the machine, report it immediately and stay close to the machine if possible.
How to easily avoid taxi scams
Taxi scams are among the most popular ones, including outside Europe. Even when you're dealing with an honest driver, the cost of the ride is often very high, which is why I usually recommend travelers to avoid taxis in Europe.
However, if you still need to take one, there are a few simple ways to avoid being scammed. First, only use a reputable company. Ask the locals, they'll know which ones you should avoid and those you can trust.
When you get in, make sure that you will pay by the meter. If the driver claims that it's broken, I guarantee it's not. Get out of the cab if they don't want to turn it on.
Carry some small money with you when taking a taxi: i's not uncommon that drivers pretend not having the change. They probably do, but it's harder to make them give you the change.
Also, if they recommend you a place and offer to take you there right away instead of taking you to your destination, politely decline. They often receive a commission from the establishment for bringing them victims / clients.
I really hate this mentality of not trusting the locals - unfortunately, my experience and that of many travelers shows that taxi drivers usually make up for the generosity and honesty of the rest of the people.
Source: Nomadic Boys
Which places in Europe are the most gay-friendly?
According to the Nomadic Boys Stefan and Sebastien:
"North and Western Europe are the most gay friendly areas. The Nordic countries, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands in particular have been world blazers with LGBTQ rights historically".
On the other side of the spectrum, countries like Poland and Hungary are infamous for their lack of tolerance towards their gay communities. That being said, Stefan and Sebastien point out that they have still come a long way over the past decade, which is something to be celebrated.
Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean countries are also lagging behind, at the exception of Malta. However,the fact that these countries fought to become EU member states played in favor of gay travelers, because the EU "forced pro LGBTQ legislation to come about".
Which events should gay travelers attend in Europe?
Stefan and Sebastien had a crush on Spain, which they consider to be the "most popular destination for gay Europeans, particularly Barcelona, Sitges, Madrid and Ibiza".
"While the big Pride events are the highlights, Madrid summer Pride is arguably the best".
But the Greek island of Mykonos should be on every gay traveler's Europe bucket list. Stefan and Sebastien see it at a "gay haven", especially during the XLSior party taking place late August.
General tips for gay travelers going across Europe?
Just because some destinations are less tolerant than others doesn't mean they should be avoided. Both Budapest in Hungary and Krakow in Poland are stunning.
The Nomadic Boys only recommend caution if you're planning on waiving a rainbow flag in public across most countries of Eastern Europe. The same applies to your trips to the countryside, even in gay-friendly countries: sadly, homophobia is still lingering there.
For more peace of mind, traveling to West and Nordic countries seems to be the best option.
How safe is Europe for a woman traveling alone?
Geri from When Woman Travels is used to traveling alone as a woman, and she believes that "while solo female travel has its challenges, it is not as scary as one might think". I all comes down to being aware of where you are and staying careful:
"There are destinations that are absolutely safe while at other the woman should be careful. The best tips to travel alone is to always know where you are going." Geri, When Woman Travels
For example, backpacking Norways alone felt very safe, even as a woman. "Especially in summer when the nights are bright".
In other destinations, you need to be a bit more careful. "You should know the traditions of the destination you are going to visit, to consider the dressing style and possibly to arrive before nightfall", giving the example of Istanbul.
Then again, it might depends on the neighborhoods that you go to: some are indeed more conservative than others. Ask around if you're not sure!
Being a woman traveling alone usually requires more caution. But it's far from being an obstacle to your travel dreams.
"Make the effort to get off the beaten path when traveling!" says Michael from The World Was Here First
Sure, when traveling to a new country, you feel compelled to visit the most touristic place, right? That's very understandable: if they're so touristic, they must be worth it, after all!
But for a more authentic experience, "it can be as simple as exploring a less visited suburb of a big city like London or Paris to uncover some cool cafes, hidden bars or quirky museums", says the travel blogger.
But getting off the beaten path can also be done right from the moment when you choose which country to travel to: Michael and Maggie recommends the Balkans, "which amazing natural beauty, interesting history and very friendly and hospitable locals who welcome travelers with open arms". Check out their guide to learn more about the region and prepare your trip there!
Travel light & explore Europe with a backpack
Take a look at Michael and Maggie's packing list to backpack around Europe. They are the perfect example that you don't need much to travel with comfort.
Going around Europe with only a backpack allows you to always carry only the strict necessary. You're never stuck because you have a luggage that prevents you from doing an activity.
If your backpack fits the airline's requirement, you can even use it as a carry-on and saving money on airfare. You only need to know how to pack everything inside the right way.
Less is more, especially when it comes to traveling. Go at a slow pace, take the time to discover a city, the habits of its inhabitants, the hidden places where the locals only go, before moving on to a new destination.
When you've spent a day in a city before traveling to another one, do you think you really know it? Be like a tortoise: go slow, experience a city, make some real memories, and discover the ins and outs of a city.
That's the key to traveling better.
So, when are you traveling to Europe? Let me know in the comments!
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