Just a few weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure and privilege to travel to Italy! We spent two glorious weeks traveling and spending time in various parts of Italy: Florence, Sperlonga, and Rome. From Florence we traveled to a few towns in Tuscany including Sienna, San Gimignano, Lucca, and Pisa. Oh and how could I forget? Our flight from Munich to Florence (after an 8 hour plane ride from Toronto) was CANCELLED due to all of Italy apparently being on a massive airline strike and not accepting any flights for the next 2 days. That led to us navigating a German airport, subway station and ticket booth (super confusing), and train station to get on a 7 hour train ride that would lead us through Germany, Austria, and Northern Italy. However, we eventually made it to Florence...just about 8 hours late. All of this to say, I have learned LOADS on how to handle a few things on your next European trip. I have many posts I will be writing about this trip, but let's just start with this one.
Upon travelling to another country (or in this case, continent) you've got to do your research! So take it from someone who knows: be as prepared as you can, but if something unfortunate happens, roll with it! Life happens, mistakes happen, random things happen. Something is bound to go wrong during your trip no matter how much you plan. Stay calm, think, and move on. Don't let it ruin your vacation or your mood! To ease some of the tension, here's a few tips to help with your next trip to Europe:
1.) Get the right outlet adapter
If you didn't know it, Europe has totally different outlets than we do here in the ole USA. How dare they, right? Each country has a different one (some have the same) so check to make sure which one you need. Italy, for instance, uses a Type C adapter. Or you could just buy a universal adapter. And take it from me, BUY MORE THAN ONE! You'll thank me when your phone needs to charge before you run out the door to catch a sunset over the city, but you also have to curl your hair.
2.) Buy your train tickets in advance
If you're planning to take a train, let's say, from Florence to Rome, book your tickets in advance! Go ahead and print them out as well. Trust me, it's so much better to not have to run around trying to find a ticket booth or kiosk (in another language) to print your tickets. You'll already be running late to the train station, there's thousands of people, you'll be carrying all your luggage, AND trying to find your platform. So if you can, go ahead and book your spot and print the tickets. Also, if you pick out your seats, you don't have to validate your ticket beforehand. Hold onto your ticket though, because they will check it once you are on the train.
3.) Get your Euros at an airport or in the country itself
We like to be prepared, so my husband and I got Euros from our bank before we left. If you really, really like the idea of being prepared, go ahead and do it. But know that the exchange rate is not totally right and that they charge you in fees! Because, yes, you usually have to order Euros a few days or a week in advance (because they just aren't sitting in the back) so there are fees attached. We basically got sort of screwed on that whole deal. If you exchange at an airport, you'll get a fair rate. If you exchange in the country you are visiting, make sure you go to an actual bank and use their ATM. These will give you a fair rate and they are safe!
4.) Money belts, Schmoney belts
A ton of blogs that you read will tell you to buy a money belt. I brought an over-the-shoulder purse and was completely fine. If you have absolutely zero awareness, then go ahead and buy a money belt. If you want the ease of not carrying a purse, buy a money belt. I know pick-pockets are a huge deal in Europe and all the blogs in the world will warn you about them. But honestly, just having good self-awareness and keeping your stuff zipped up or in tight, front pockets is good. Train stations and highly populated tourist areas are the worse, and those are usually the places with the most mayhem. So keep your hand on your purse, watch anyone who comes close to you, DO NOT keep things in your back pockets, and you will be fine. Don't be afraid to look people directly in the eyes when they are being suspicious. It works. They notice that you are watching and will leave. Also, if you have travel companions, just watch out for each other and each other's belongings. Don't set your phone on a table. Don't leave your purse draped over a chair. Keep your stuff with you at all times and you will be fine. Just be aware. Head on a swivel.
5.) Pack as light as possible + plan outfits
If you're traveling to many cities or different countries, this is a no-brainer. You will be taking taxis, planes, trains, and who knows what else so that means you will be lugging your own luggage around everywhere that you go. If you pack a gigantic suitcase with 6 pairs of shoes it is gonna kill ya, honey. We stayed for 2 weeks, so I planned 7 outfits that could easily be mixed and matched with everything else and just re-wore my stuff (it helped that we had access to a washer). I brought 4 pairs of shoes (I was going to do 3, but I just wore my extra pair on the airplane). I'll do a blog post on the stuff I wore in Italy! But packing light is a major help to your knees, back, and stress level altogether.
6.) Style matters
Yea so when people say that Italians are stylish, they were NOT kidding. Not only that, but ALL of the tourists apparently read that as well, because EVERYONE WAS SO FREAKING PRETTY. Everyone always looked so good. Midi skirts, cute tennies, and leather jackets. Everywhere. Tennis shoes worn: SuperGa, Adidas, and Fila. Everywhere. I should have taken my leather jacket! Now we walked everywhereeee, so I absolutely had to have comfy shoes. I'm talking about walking 4-8 miles everyday comfy shoes. I had to leave my Adidas and Vans at home, because they cannot take me 8 miles. My trusty Nikes can. But I'm telling you, if you want to fit in or whatever, look good, dude. Italian men always look incredibly put-together with khakis, button ups, leather jackets, and a nice gentleman's shoe. No men wear shorts unless at the beach. I saw quite a few women wearing shorts, so it's not that unheard of (especially when it is 80 degrees in Rome and you have 10 miles to cover). I mean, these people have got it. Style matters.
7.) Learn some phrases
Most places you go, you'll be able to find someone who speaks English. At least a little bit. Even when we were in Germany, and I could not for the life of me remember any basic German phrases, I just asked the lady standing next to me if she could speak English. And that is how we were able to purchase our subway tickets. Anywhere you are, someone speaks English. However, it is very good manners and just plain courteous to learn a few basic phrases to the country you are going. The people really appreciate it. We honestly didn't find any America-haters while we were out, because we just tried to be respectful everywhere we went. Don't be arrogant and loud. Just be respectful and learn a few sentences. Yes, no, thank you, how much, bathroom, etc. You'll be golden.
8.) Do AirBNB
I truly believe AirBNB is the total freaking bomb. We picked an AirBNB each place we went, except in Sperlonga. It was a hotel, but it had a kitchen and washer like AirBNB's do. I highly recommend finding a place with a kitchen, washer, and free wifi. That way you can cook a few meals or eat a light breakfast/lunch at home and save a few $$, you can wash your clothes and re-wear, and be able to contact the outside world for free. Plus, you get to stay in some authentic Italian (or wherever you are) homes. Our apartment in Florence was to die for. Rome, too. Ahh! Amazing.
Images from left to right: Apartment in Florence, View from balcony in Sperlonga, Apartment in Rome
9.) Ziploc bags are extremely versatile
These are one of the best things you can pack. They can be used for a million different things. Especially when your bathroom products and bag fall into the toilet on day 5 in Florence (my poor husband).
10.) Bring your own travel toilet paper
Our 7 hour train ride through Europe had a tiny, dirty, smelly bathroom that had NO TOILET PAPER. And a few places around Italy had some bathrooms without toilet paper (I don't know why), so it's very handy to carry some with you. You can actually buy some travel toilet paper on Amazon that comes in a handy little pack. Trust me, 7 hours is a long time to go without using the bathroom.
Other handy tips:
- Keep your coins. You'll need them for bathrooms (you have to pay for them in Europe). RARELY did we ever find a free bathroom.
- If you sit at a cafe, expect to get a small charge (standing at the counter to drink your coffee is free)
- Tipping doesn't exist in Italy. They charge you a cover charge when you sit. Every place does it, get used to it.
- 1-4 pm is lunch time in Italy. Big places like Florence and Rome will still have places open, but small places like Sperlonga will definitely have a ton of places closed during that time (we only found one place in Sperlonga that was open). So just be aware that places will be closed during this time while the Italians go home to eat and recharge for the evening.
- Find the real gelato. The places that have huge stacks of neon-colored cream in their windows have it shipped in everyday. Find the authentic, made-on-site stuff. Quick tip: look at the banana flavor. If it's yellow, it is fake. If it's gray, that means it was made with fresh bananas that morning.
More tips to come!
I hope your trip to Italy or Europe is FANTASTIC! I've already had a few people asking me questions for their next trip, so feel free to leave some comments and I would love to help you out!