Hello! The following is a guest post by Neotera sharing her experiences for her first European adventure. Enjoy!
Prior to traveling to Europe for the first time, I read dozens of travel articles online and interviewed my friends about their experiences. I also selected touristy cities to make planning easier – London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Rome. Here are some takeaways from my experience.
Transportation & Getting Around
Pay attention to the airport locations of domestic airlines
I chose easyJet over Ryanair for my trip as it flies through major airports such as Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Venice Marco Polo (VCE). For these cities, Ryanair flies out of airports that are somewhat far from where you probably want to be (48 miles from CDG and 20 miles from VCE!).
Don’t always book your trains on raileurope.com
Raileeurope.com makes it easy to book your trains throughout Europe, however, the listed prices will be higher for US residents. I booked my rail through eurostar.com, trenitalia.com, and italotreno.it. The last two sites may seem a tad confusing to navigate at first, but you’ll definitely save some money by booking there.
Download the Pocket Earth app to your phone
A LIFESAVER in Europe. Most tourists walked around looking confused with huge paper maps while I simply tracked my location using the app. The app works offline and displays major sights, landmarks, restaurants, and public transportation options (even bus schedules!). You can also create routes while on Wi-Fi for use when you’re no longer connected. Make sure to download all of your city maps on Wi-Fi before leaving for your trip.
Get a ‘selfie tripod’
A selfie tripod saves you time since you don’t have to ask strangers to take (and retake) your pictures. It might seem silly at first, but I saw tons of tourists using it. Side-tip: Bring an iPad and camera-to-iPad adapter so that you can transfer your pictures nightly.
Bring a 360-degree suitcase vs. a backpack
A lot of travel advice I read recommended backpacks to make it easier to navigate the cobbled streets and bridges in Europe and appear less like a tourist. No matter what, you are going to look like a tourist. And unless you’re actually backpacking through Europe (hiking, trails, etc.), bring a regular suitcase. I made the mistake of taking a backpack, and although I packed lightly, it still made me uncomfortably warm and was a nuisance when putting it on and taking it off.
Sightseeing & Observations
Florence is overrated
I might be in the minority on this, but if you’re not into Renaissance art, Florence is a bore. Day tripping to the coastline or to wine country is a better idea. I spent three days in Florence, one of which was spent on a day trip to the Cinque Terre coastline. It was a guided tour of the five villages which included transportation – a round trip shuttle, a train ride, a ferry – and ample time to relax and roam about in Monterrosso (the largest of the villages).
Visit the Sacre-Cœur in Montmartre vs. going up the Eiffel Tower
While in Paris, I visited the Sacre-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre. Per the church’s website, it is the highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. The view was incredible, not to mention free and with no long lines as is the case with the Eiffel Tower (which you can also see from Sacre–Cœur!).
Eat at Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta To Go in Venice
You go into this tiny “kitchen”, order a meat, a sauce, a pasta type (fusilli, rigatoni, alfi, or fettuccine) and specify how you want it cooked – choose al dente to be a true Italian. Your pipin’ hot and fresh pasta meal is served through the kitchen window, in a Chinese food carryout box with a long spork. Delicious, and so inexpensive (~6 euro) that you’ll want to try all of the combinations!
Don’t stress about your phone usage
You are likely not going to be making calls or texting friends back home. Don’t purchase international plans. Don’t unlock your phone so that you can get a Europe SIM card. Simply turn off ‘Cellular Data’ and ‘Data Roaming’ on your phone. Then, use your phone to access free Wi-Fi at hotels and elsewhere to check email or catch up on Facebook.
Pickpocketing isn’t as common as you think
The advice I read on Europe travels recommended money-belts, neck wallets, bra wallets, and other ways to trick pickpockets. Just leave your valuables (i.e. passport) at the hotel safe, don’t carry a bunch of cash, and pay attention to the people around you. Carry a cross-body bag and keep the bag in front of your body at all times. But really, it’s not as bad as you’re made to believe.