It’s hard to imagine a more hassle-free vacation than Europe…at least for me. I’ve never been one to need to book tours or hire guides for this particular continent and have always enjoyed wandering the cities and natural wonders of the various countries I’ve explored. 2017 so far has been all about Europe for me – I’ve gone to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague in March, Switzerland in June, and will be going to Italy in September. My now experienced wanderings around the continent of my ancestors have inspired me to share these few tips about Europe that I personally feel no one really talks about – I guess most people tend to forget about the details of these touristic struggles, so I wanted to take the opportunity to provide a helpful tidbit of information for those of you traveling in or planning to travel to Europe.
I find it a smart practice to always check the particular laws and etiquette rules of every country I go to, but these 5 items just never seem to be mentioned anywhere.
5 Things No One Tells You About Europe
There is no such thing as free bathrooms
And there never was…maybe I am accustomed to this from my early years in Russia, but unless you’re from New York City, you’re in for a big surprise when you have to pay to potty. A good practice I developed is to always keep local change and pace myself accordingly with beverages so that I don’t end up frantically looking for a bathroom in the middle of my adventures. Worst case scenario – stop at the nearest cafe, buy a cup of coffee, or wine, or beer – whatever is cheapest – and they will let you use their bathroom.
Yes, you should be tipping
It’s no longer true, for the most part, that you don’t have to tip in Europe. Yes, their salaries are still much better than the ones of our struggling service industry, but it’s become quite customary to either round off your check to the nearest whole number or, if you’re really happy with service, to add a 10% tip. If you’re paying with a credit card, you won’t have space on the receipt to add the tip so make sure that when the waiter runs your card, you tell them directly how much you want to add and they will charge the total. Another thing to keep in mind is that the pace of life in general is a bit slower in Europe than say, the hectic chaos we here on the East Coast of the USA are used to, so expect a slower service – this is normal. If you’re sitting down for lunch, depending on where you are in Europe, expect to spend at least an hour to an hour and a half eating. And please enjoy it people – that’s what it’s all about.
You will get fined for not validating a metro ticket…and it’s not pretty
Trust me when I say this – don’t try to save a few euros by not validating your metro/bus/tram ticket in Europe. Here is the process – you buy the paper ticket or card, or whatever form of ticket is available in that particular country. You stick it in a machine at the entrance to the train line and it makes a hole and/or puts a time stamp on your ticket. I’ve done this twice – did not validate my ticket – first time in Paris, when my siblings and I had a ton of luggage with us and asked the lady in the kiosk if we could just come through, she said yes, and my second time in Budapest, just out of sheer forgetfulness. The fine for this is around 50 – 60 euros so you end up paying for about 30 metro rides instead of one…and they are RELENTLESS about this. You can try to make all the excuses in the world – “but sir, it’s my first time here, I had no idea about this rule” – they don’t care. Their city – their rules, which honestly, I can’t argue with. Please please please be aware of this and save yourself the wasted nice meal you could have had for that fine.
You can drink the tap water…with very few exceptions
It’s pretty safe to drink tap water in Europe, unless you’re in some of the shadiest parts of it. Northern through Central Europe – don’t even worry about it, and stop spending 2 euros per bottle. When you’re at a restaurant, instead of telling the waiter you want water – they will bring you bottled, for which you have to pay – tell them you want a GLASS of water, and your water will be free. It’s always a good idea to Google the exact country and see what people’s responses are regarding the tap water, but in general, you should be quite safe. If you are someone with an extra sensitive stomach, I would recommend taking some probiotics while you’re there.
They have wireless credit card machines
So when you pay for your meal at the restaurant, the waiter brings the credit card machine directly to your table rather than having to take your card away to their station – this is why you can tell them directly how much you want the total bill to be. They will hand it to you for approval, print the receipt, you sign it, and off you go. And here you thought US had the most advanced technology. Europe’s had chips in their credit cards for years – we’re just starting the trend…makes me very curious as to why. Regardless, I find this a great convenience and it’s also a sure way to always have your eyes on your credit card since it never actually leaves the table.
Are you an avid Euro-traveler? Do you have any tips and/or stories to share? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you.