Getting the most out of your travels in Europe comes from a blend of many things in the correct doses.
Experienced travellers tend to learn from their choices, which helps them travel smarter and more efficiently each time they head off on a new adventure.
Sure, there are so many ways you can travel around Europe – you can spend a lot, or very little depending on the experience you seek and how well you manage.
If you are not careful, you could end up paying a lot of money for the essentials like food and acommodation.
So if you don’t have much experience with travelling around the world’s most visited continent, and don’t have the time to sift through endless guidebooks and blogs, how can you feel prepared and travel like a seasoned pro in no time at all?
That’s exactly the purpose of this guide.
So let’s look at some ways of travelling smarter in the European continent.
Exchange currency wisely
Depending on where you are travelling from, you might not be guaranteed a better exchange rate if you choose to exchange it at home.
Another temptation might be to exchange currency from one of the many exchange booths in the airport, these can also be costly.
Make sure you find somewhere with 0% commission on the exchange and one that offers the true current rate and not just a number they thought of in their head.
An alternative to that wild goose chase is to use a credit card with travel rewards or an ATM in a bank.
If you would like to know more about digital bank cards look no further.
A popular sight in tourist-heavy areas is the implementation of EuroNet ATM’s which has the fantastic ability to offer you a bad exchange rate plus charge you between 8-10% for making the transaction – avoid at all costs!
Try new and local cuisine
If travelling is all about getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing new things, then being more adventurous with what you eat is a great way to do that.
All around Europe there are local dishes and traditional specialities for you to taste that will exceed your expectations of how delicious food can be.
For the authentic experience, look for traditional cafes and restaurants, avoid food choices like pizzas and burgers if they aren’t the local dishes.
A laminated menu showing pictures of every dish is not a traditional way of displaying the choices so don’t expect a gourmet meal.
Look for restaurants with cuisine of the country you are visiting and daily specials written on a chalkboard are always a plus.
Avoid restaurants where nobody is eating during the peak times, there is always a reason for this!
Quite often the best places to eat are not the most expensive, but they have mostly locals inside and everything is done in the traditional way.
I still remember the first time I saw ‘Rooster testicle stew’ being cooked at a Christmas market in Budapest, it was definitely a surprise.
Learn some history
Looking at pretty buildings is nice, but when you start to learn some of the stories of the area, it all starts to make sense why things are the way they are.
Embracing the history of the place you are exploring, gives rich new context to how and why people like to live there – sometimes they can point you in the direction of other interesting places too!
In virtually all European cities, you can tag along for free walking tours. Just make sure you are present at the correct place, prior to the the start time. The guide will teach you some things about the city, the architecture, some art and its beginnings typically.
If you wish, you can leave a donation at the end of the tour but otherwise it costs nothing at all and you can separate from the tour whenever you’ve had enough.
From there you will gain good bearings on where landmark places are in the city, allowing you to explore for yourself in greater detail.
Museums can be overrated
Now I’m not saying there is anything wrong with museums, but you can waste a whole heap of hours in them if you visit many of them and then add it up over the days.
I find it interesting that a lot of the locals I meet tell me they don’t go to the museums as it’s mainly for tourists.
Come to think of it, I seldom visit museums back home in London, in fact – there are still a few I’m still yet to visit!
Learning about the history and interesting stories, without queuing up for hours to view artifacts is my preference and it gives you more time to explore other places.
Finally, by learning about the relevant history, you will gain respect and appreciation from the locals.
After all, they will be far more pleased when you refer to the statue of their great hero by name – instead of saying ‘some guy on a horse’.
Meet some locals
Forming a friendship with at least one local will give you new insights and knowledge regarding the town or city you are in. I find it’s especially important when travelling solo – you don’t want to be stuck on your own, cities are rarely more interesting that way.
Learning how to greet people in the language used is a great way to promote a positive image of yourself as an outsider.
Walking down the street in a non-touristic area with your camera might get you some stares, but saying hello to people costs nothing and they usually say hi back!
When I think of how I struck unique friendships with locals on my road trips, it was always through simply saying hi and either of us usually asking a question to take us further than just the greeting.
From there you find all the secret places to have cheap, delicious food, the best coffee where tourists don’t know, and the underground places that most travel guides don’t know about!
It’s simple – make a local friend and unlock the city.
When we talk about exploring a place deeper, we try to think beyond the well-known attractions and locations.
The ‘tourist trail’ in European cities denotes the path most followed by foreign visitors. This is often a tour of the most famous landmarks, the things that people think of when they hear a particular destination being mentioned.
But once you have seen all of the touristy stuff, what else is there to see and do? This is where exploring deeper brings huge advantages to satisfying your desires of adventure and discovery.
Much of this type of exploration involves discovering for yourself, stepping into the unknown and believing that there is far more to a place than a handful of selfie backdrops.
One method we particularly like to employ is to leave our accommodation in the morning and heading in a direction away from the tourist centre. Then, along the way we like to follow whatever we find interesting and this often leads us to many amazing discoveries!
In Florence, we discovered a whole other side to the city where tourists couldn’t be seen and true Italian life was shown in the truest form. We found hip coffee shops, interesting markets, gorgeous architecture and very friendly local people! And they were all our own discoveries!
It gave us a tremendous feeling that we had found something we liked, by ourselves and without a map to lead us there.
Learn some of the language
They say a smile goes a long way, so surely a greeting in the local language goes even further?
Learning some useful phrases that you know you will need will greatly affect the hospitality you receive and you will notice that the locals are flattered that you’ve made the effort.
The greetings used throughout the day, the essential please, thank you and sorry, how to ask for something you are looking for and so on.
When pronunciation becomes challenging, let your phone or laptop say the phrase out loud for you so you can mimic the sounds.
I remember spending almost a whole week in Prague trying to correctly pronounce “thank you” in Czech, it was such a struggle as many different people I met all said it in a slightly different way.
I did receive some giggles but that’s all part of the fun!
Don’t worry if you think you are saying it wrong or if a local laughs a little at how you have said something, they will be more than happy to offer you the correct pronunciation. Above all, it feels EPIC to be able to speak some of the romantic languages in Europe and really feel like a local going about their day!
Be aware of closing times
We’ve all heard of the ‘siesta’ – a lunchtime break around the hottest part of the day, made famous by the Spanish people, where most shops close for a few hours.
In many other European countries this afternoon break in business is also commonplace. It’s a very handy idea to find out the times that businesses close and plan your activities around this.
You don’t have to sleep during this time or even stop exploring, it just means planning your day around the break so you don’t get caught by surprise.
Another factor that is worth considering is the national holidays. These dates differ depending on the country and are important to check. If you happen to arrive in a new destination and you are unlucky enough that it is a national holiday, you might find that even supermarkets could be closed all day.
If you are living out of an apartment it might be worth stocking up on some supplies to prepare you for the closures.
In the summer months this break is designed to let people rest during the hottest times of day.
This period of a few hours is great for finding somewhere to keep cool and relax, catch up on anything else you need to until everything returns to normal.
Perhaps you will find that not every business takes this break and quite often it’s still possible to find quiet coffee shops and bars that remain open.
Find a balance
Travelling around Europe is almost considered a right of passage for young, twenty-something backpackers looking for a great introduction to world travel.
Spending a summer hopping around Europe is a very popular choice for college students and year-gappers – it’s no surprise either, as Europe is teeming full of fascinating places, curious cultures and delicious delicacies just waiting to be experienced.
The major cities of most of the countries in Europe are a stone’s throw away from each other and this is ideal as it allows backpackers to create a highly varied route without too much time lost to travelling.
While European cities are full of charm and wonder, they are not all that is special about the continent.
Europe happens to have some of the most outstanding natural settings from colossal mountain ranges like the Carpathians, to the idyllic, sparkling coastlines of the Mediterranean and Adriatic, there are limitless possibilities to connect with mother nature.
It’s important to find a balance if you are travelling for many weeks or more. The hustle and bustle of big towns and cities can become tiresome, but don’t let yourself become sick of them – find inner peace and relaxation with the calming remoteness of the wild.
Avoid irresistable deals and scams
Unfortunately, while you are out enjoying your holiday, there people out there looking to make a quick buck from you in any way they can.
Steer clear of anyone offering to exchange money for you on the street.
People approaching you at random are often waiting for their next victim to strike on.
There are many scenarios where tricksters and thieves will try to trick you, in an attempt to make you pay them some money.
They might claim that you dropped a ring, in the hope you think it is valuable and will buy it from them.
Or maybe some street performers are playing a game with 3 cups and a ball for cash? Don’t fall for it.
In some cities like London, Lisbon and Paris – pickpockets are prominent in the busy areas where it can be easy for someone to try and get into your bag.
Stay well aware of your belongings at all times and in crowded places keep them close to your body.
Avoid any interaction with someone on the street if it is unclear what their intentions are.
In the event of someone trying to steal your belongings, you should yell out ‘PICKPOCKET’ to alert others and contact the Police immediately.