Since I just finished detailing my adventures through Europe, I thought it would be a good idea to do a different kind of post this week. Even in this modern world, where a ton of information can be found through Google, it can be hard to know exactly what to expect when visiting another country, especially when the country has a foreign language. This week I’ll be going through some of the most important aspects of travel that I myself feared.
One of my biggest fears was being unable to communicate, whether it was with store staff or bystanders. I read blog after blog on each of my destinations in an attempt to put my fears to rest. Many didn’t actually mention the language barrier, which was crazy in my opinion. In the end, I was able to contact a past traveller with Topdeck who answered all my questions. She assured me that, in the major cities, language was not a big issue. Call me skeptical but I was still quite wary until the day I arrived in Paris.
If you are travelling to any major city or tourist destination in Europe, I can guarantee that there will be English-speaking people. Whether it be a restaurant, shop or attraction, the staff will speak, at the very least, broken English. Many will even be international staff.
In smaller towns and roadside stops, you will have to be prepared for non-English speaking attendants. Just remember that you are in their country. Attempt to at least greet the attendant in their native tongue and work from there.
As I mentioned above, if you travel to a major city or tourist attraction, you can pretty much guarantee that the signs, menus, etc. will be in English, as well as a number of others. In Austria, Germany and France, there are quite a few common words that you will recognise even in their foreign tongue.
Manners & Customs
You will find that many of the things that you find rude, the Europeans will as well. The best way to ensure you don’t offend anyone is to attempt to learn a bit of the language. The Parisians are especially rude to those who fail to attempt their language. I would personally always address the person I was talking to in their language before admitting I was a foreigner. Many will appreciate your attempt at fitting in, trust me.
One of the hardest things to get used to in Europe was the fact that you had to pay to use a public toilet. It can be especially hard when you don’t have the right amount as often there is no chance for change. If you can’t find a public toilet, you can always use a café or fast food restaurant’s toilets but you must buy something first (this seems totally fair to me, to be honest). In Paris, you can sit in an establishment such as a café all day as long as you purchase something. This is great if you need WiFi.
If you plan on seeing any churches, cathedrals or other religious buildings, make sure you are covered from your neck to your knees. I went in winter so this wasn’t such an issue for me personally, but if you visit Europe in summer, make sure you pack some modest clothing.
Let me put a major issue to rest straight away. There are ATMs everywhere in Europe. Even small villages will have at least one ATM somewhere (usually at a shop). There is no need to carry all your money on you or exchange in every stop. In fact, you’d get better exchange rates from a bank than an exchange.
However, this is not to say that you shouldn’t use the local exchange. There can be times where you accidentally withdraw more than you are able to use, especially in places like Hungary and the Czech Republic. When using an exchange, shop around for the best price because some of those places like to rip off unsuspecting tourists.
Having said that, never leave anywhere with your wallet or money out. Always put it back in a safe compartment of your bag before leaving. Thieves target those who are careless. I would also recommend hiding a stash of money and a spare card in a secret spot in the event that you are robbed.
Transportation & Getting Around
In every city, it is always best to use public transport. It will be cheaper and go to all the sights regularly. Taxis can, of course, be used when needed but I usually use them as a final resort (for when I get lost and have no idea where I am. Just be aware that a taxi will not be cheap.
My top tip for getting around, however, is to buy a map. Maps are the greatest resource a tourist can have. Yes, it will mark you as a tourist, but it will also enable you to mark out your plans for the day. I found I often used my maps when I had no idea where I was or where I was going. The few times I refused to buy a map, I seriously regretted it. The best thing is, they’re not expensive. For a couple of Euros, you can save your data and learn the city easily.
I hope this short post will help you in your travels. Please let me know if there is anything I have missed. Just remember that there will always be the fear of the unknown. The best way to enjoy Europe without worry is to be prepared. When you are prepared, nothing will faze you.