7 Sensational Tips for the Aspiring Euro-TravellerThursday, September 20, 2012
Being born and raised in the Philippines, and now living in Los Angeles, Europe has always been my choice continent to explore. Maybe because it’s so different from the two cultures I have grown accustomed to. I’ve just always been fascinated by the history and the diversity in cultures of each country, and how conveniently close they are to each other! Europe is my definition of exotic. I’ve been there a few times, and I have had such a great time in all the places I’ve visited. I’ve had waffles in Belgium, pasta in Italy, macarons in Paris, danced the flamenco in Spain, and I still can’t get enough! I will conquer that continent eventually. I just came back from Europe a few months ago, and if you guys ever want to visit (and I totally recommend it), here are a few tips to help make your vacation a safe and memorable one!
1. Have an epic friend for a travel partner
My travel buddy is Karen. Karen and I have been friends for more than 10 years, but longevity alone does not determine a good travel partner. You can be friends with someone your whole life, but could potentially discover that you actually can’t stand them when you travel. It’s true. It happens. They say that a true test of friendship is either traveling or living together. Well, Karen and I have done both. Well, sort of. We’ve done an East Coast road trip two years ago that sealed our bond. It was then that we discovered our compatibility! I think the only argument we had on that trip was whether or not we should go to the Central Park Zoo (I wanted to see the penguins, and she didn’t). It wasn’t even an argument! Just a difference of opinion which we both overcame after eating ice cream in the park.
Karen also stayed with me in LA after that trip, and all I could remember was having so much fun with her around! Suffice to say, we have passed the test! And so it was a no-brainer asking her to come and do my 30th birthday Epic Eurotrip with me. I knew we were going to have a blast, and we DID!
2. Bring a sturdy suitcase and pack light
If you can’t – then do some strength training before you leave. Unfortunately, neither Karen nor I are light packers. I’m a big girl, so most of my clothes and shoes occupy more space to begin with. It also didn’t help that we traveled at the tail end of winter, which meant we needed coats or at the very least, layers. I wish I could’ve been more practical by -- I dunno -- maybe bringing just one coat, or a pair of pants, and just a few scarves to compensate and accessorize the dull outfits. But one thing kept resonating in my mind: PHOTOS. I HAD to look good in the photos! (Again, this is one of the things that Karen and I had in common. I found out later that she had the same predicament while packing.) It’s not vanity, really. It’s just – how often does one get to go on epic trips to Europe? Shouldn’t one look at least as beautiful as the places one visits?
I tried to be as economical as I could, packed one suitcase for the 2 week trip, and stayed well below the 50 pound limit. I knew I needed space for souvenirs. One thing about traveling through Europe is that you take a lot of trains, and a lot of the train stations do NOT have escalators… so if you aren't light packers (like Karen and I), be prepared to carry your suitcases up and down the stairs. I work out almost everyday, so I was strong enough to haul both my suitcase (and Karen's) through stairs, platforms and trains. All the heavy lifting took its toll on my back afterwards and I had to go through several sessions of acupuncture to get some pain relief. But was it worth it? Just look at our photos… I’d say abso-freakin-lutely!
3. It’s good to plan a few things ahead
I don’t necessarily consider myself a planner, but when it comes to travel, it’s good to be responsible. I did a lot of research before the trip. I booked my plane ticket about 6 months in advance, and I got an insanely good price that I never would’ve gotten if I had booked it any later than that. Seriously cheap! I had consulted with Karen as I was plotting our course in the map. I knew I wanted to go to Austria and Prague for sure because I had never been there. But then France and Switzerland got thrown into the mix since they were both on the way anyways, and in the words of Karen – “Paris is always a good idea” – so, why not?
After plotting our countries, which were France – Switzerland – Austria – Prague, we talked about length of stay per country, dates, and MUST-DO activities. For instance, the Sound of Music Tour was a must. Visiting Versailles was another. Once we figured those things out, we worked out our dates, booked our tours online (they are cheaper and more convenient that way), booked some of the train tickets (Eurostar is usually cheaper if booked early) and that was it! The rest of the time, we threw caution to the wind and left it up to fate. We made sure not to have a jam-packed itinerary so we could have time to discover things on our own. It’s good to have room for flexibility!
4. Stay at hostels!
I cannot stress enough how easy, convenient, and awesome hostels in Europe are. First of all, they are so cheap. Second of all – contrary to popular belief, they are so clean! And third of all – it provides the one essential thing you need for sleep- a bed. Seriously, when you travel, how much time do you intend to stay indoors anyway? And don’t get me wrong… I have nothing against luxury. And if you can afford it, then good for you! But if you’re like Karen and I who would rather spend our limited and hard earned money on more important things like food, train tickets or excursions, then hostels are a no brainer. It helps to do a little research too. I checked ratings from trip advisor, read reviews from hostels.com, and even went as far as asking for feedback in random message boards. The result? The best and most astounding hostels across Europe!
What to expect: A bed. And most of the time, a shared bathroom – which are VERY clean. I had to allcaps “VERY” because they really are. I know some people who can get a little squeamish about dorm-type set-ups, and I can understand bad experiences in the past. I get it. I’m just saying, Europe hostels are different! Just do your research and make sure you choose the ones with good ratings.
Breakfast: Usually consists of bread, cereal and coffee. Sometimes they’re included in the price of the hostel, sometimes you pay, but it will be CHEAP.
New Friends: … are easy to make! You will be among travelers from all over the world! People just like you who are looking for some culture, adventure, and good fun!
5. Be open – but be responsible!
There is nothing more exhilarating than traveling to far off places in search for adventure! Being open to opportunities attracts only good things! Light attracts light! You never know where a simple smile could lead to. After a flight to paris, a guy asked to bum a cigarette off me, and he turned out to be one of the funniest people I’ve met, and that night ended up being the most fun Karen and I had in Paris because of him! Another time at a restaurant, we chatted up to the guys sitting next to us, and one of them turned out to be a big celebrity from Madrid! And at the Eiffel Tower, I approached these musicians having a photoshoot to ask about what was going on, and they ended up inviting Karen and I to their gig that night --- where we had the most amazing time!
But then… a fair warning: There is a big difference between being open and being stupid. Those girls from the movie, “Taken” who were taken? They were stupid.
Fortunately, Karen and I have very keen senses of awareness. We never leave any of our valuables unattended, neither of us own any clothing or bags or jewelry that is worth more than our kidneys, and we don’t share cabs with strangers! That’s just common sense, especially when you’re in a foreign land. You have to have a certain sense of responsibility if you’re away from your comfort zone. And being responsible doesn’t equate to being prude. You just have to be smart! All our tickets for trains, planes and automobiles were tucked away in a folder in the order that we would need them. Passports were always with us wherever we went… No missed flights, missed trains, or booking mishaps. Everything went off without a hitch. No hassle! See? It pays to be responsible!
6. Never underestimate the importance of body language
I hate to say this, but Ursula, the sea witch, was right. It could be intimidating visiting non-English speaking countries, but it’s remarkable what body – AND sign language could do! It’s polite to try and learn a few basic phrases before you visit (Hi, Excuse me, Thank you, etc), but if you can’t speak any more than that, you’d be amazed by what you could understand just by body language alone!
When trying to communicate with locals, hold out your fingers for numbers, do a little jumping dance to indicate you’re looking for the toilet, and clasp your hands together in prayer if you’re looking for a church. Watch out for their gestures too! One time we were looking for the Moulin Rouge, I asked a lady where it was. She didn’t speak a word of English but when she was spitting out directions in French, her hands pointed down the road, then she paused, then her hand pointed right! I had no idea what she said but I just nodded and said, “Merci!”. We went down the road and turned right, and voila! The Moulin Rouge! You’d have to be really creative with your gestures, and you’d have to pay close attention to them too, but it works!
7. Trust in the Universe
Believe that you’ll have the time of your life – and you will! It goes without saying that Karen and I had a BLAST! We went into it fully committed to having a good time, and we did! Karen always said that we were the Universe’s favorite children. It sounds really cheesy, but I’m inclined to believe her. Why else would the sun have followed us wherever we went, in a continent so notorious for being gray, especially in the tail end of winter? Why have we been met with nothing but kindness in a country so infamous for being rude? Why were we, two girls in their thirties, mistaken as students, and given student discounts for a concert in the classical music capital of the world?
Is it luck? Maybe. Is it the attitude? Most definitely! We were just excited about everything. We were looking at the world through the eyes of a kid, so full of awe and wonder. We expected the best… and that’s what we got! The love for travel is a passion that we share… and I think shared passion always creates magic. It’s positive energy, isn't it? And what’s a stronger, more powerful energy than love?
That, above all things I think is the reason why we were always followed by good fortune. We had faith!
And I would advise you to do the same, fellow traveler! Just do your research, be as prepared as you can and keep your smarts on. When you get there, take it all in, and marvel in all of Europe’s glory. Be open to new possibilities, let it blow your mind and you will have the time of your life!
Eartha is the the newest contributor on Sole Sisters. She is a Filipina currently living in Los Angeles with dreams of someday owning a castle in Scotland. She loves travel, music, boxing, singing, hurricanes (the drink, not the natural disaster) and celebrities. If you're up for a good story or just a random ramble, read her blog The 30 by 30 Project. Check out her random answers on Sole Sister Spotlight!
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