It’s often comical to listen to first-time travelers give advice on traveling to Europe. Most times it’s personal opinions on their experiences which is fine, often though, it’s just bad advice or not true.
Check out some of the European travel myths I heard from people from all over the world on the plane last month.
1. Europe is really small, you can get everywhere in a few hours
There are 28 European Union (EU) member countries. Russia, yes Russia, the world’s largest country, is a part of Europe but is not an EU member country. So technically, since Russia occupies most of Eastern Europe and North Asia and is about 1.75 times the size of the US, Europe is not small at all.
Ok, the Russia example is a little far-fetched, but here’s my point, if you want to drive from the northern part of Europe to a most-southern part such as from Copenhagen, Denmark to Rome, Italy, plan for a 20-hour drive time. Even driving from Hamburg to Munich will cost you about 7 hours according to Google Maps and that’s on the German Autobahn, where there are driving areas without a speed limit.
The bottom line is you can’t see all of Europe on the standard 10-day American vacation. You should plan according, re-plan and come up with a realistic itinerary, contact an experience Europe travel agent, or use Google Maps to get an idea of estimated driving times.
2. There’s only one currency in Europe
While it’s true that the currency of the European Union member countries is the euro (sign: €; code: EUR), people often forget when they travel to Switzerland for example, that they’ll need Swiss Francs or when traveling to the Czech Republic they’ll need Czech koruna (CZK).
It’s always a good idea to have a mix of the local currency on hand and a couple of credit cards. Check with your banking institution for the best exchange rate and ideally, exchange a few dollars to local currency before you travel.
American Express is not accepted as widely as MasterCard or Visa although I find most hotels and finer restaurants do indeed accept American Express cards (my preferred cc for collecting points).
Major credit card companies now have traveler’s check cards, because old-fashioned traveler’s checks are basically dead. These traveler’s check cards look like a regular credit card with your name on it and you use them like a regular credit card until you run out of the pre-selected amount of cash on it.
Tip: Buy a small travel wallet with a large coin holder and bring only the basic cards. I doubt you’ll be able to use your Walmart or Walgreens card in Spain.
Also, many small shops and restaurants don’t accept credit cards at all due to the high fees. They do often accept, however, EC (Electronic cash) cards which are similar to using debit card system cash cards. Check with your banking institution for more details.
3. Stores and shops are always open
After 12 years of living overseas, this is still my pet peeve. What, can’t buy a pair of jeans on Sunday? I enjoy a lazy Sunday around town or at home, but sometimes I would just like to go shopping for other than a candy bar or windshield wiper fluid on a Sunday.
Opening hours for pharmacies, banks, shops, museums and restaurants vary from country to country, so ask with your hotel receptionist for details.
Tip: If you need an emergency item from a pharmacy, ask someone in your hotel which pharmacy is open on that particular Sunday.
In general, stores and shops are closed on Sundays throughout Europe. In France on the other hand, bakeries are open until around 13:00 because the French like fresh baguettes. Me too as a matter of fact!
European store and shop opening exceptions are gas stations, airports, and train stations where you can buy over-priced basic items such as milk, beer, and so on. In Europe, there are special days where stores open on Sunday in conjunction with a festival or a special time of year.
4. Everyone speaks English in Europe
Well, almost all Europeans have had to learn some English in school, but that doesn’t mean they will all be able to speak fluently, quickly, or confidently. Of course in larger metropolitan cities or university towns, I’ve noticed more Europeans have a very good grasp of the English language, especially in Scandinavian countries.
Tip: Don’t yell when you speak to Europeans, most aren’t hard or hearing and it makes you look really silly.
In addition, you’ll most likely find that in hotels and larger shopping malls, the staff will be able to communicate with you in English. Ideally, I recommend learning to say at least ‘Hello’, ‘How are you?’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘Do you speak English?’ in the country’s local language. You’d be surprised how far it will get you.
The phrase book method doesn’t work, because you’ll get an answer in the local language unless you use a language converter smartphone app to communicate. 🙂
5. All of my electrical devices function in Europe
Help! I’m traveling to Europe and need to know the following:
- Do I need a transformer?
- Do I need an adapter?
- Do I need a converter?
- What’s the difference between an adapter and a converter?
First things first, you don’t need a transformer unless you plan on bringing some large electrical device like your toaster or microwave on vacation.
Adapters – Almost all laptops, tablets, smartphones, MP 3 players, e-book readers, camera battery chargers, and many flat irons are dual voltage. This means they will work on 110 volts (United States voltage) and on 220 volts (Europe and most other parts of the world voltage). They’ll also work with electric frequencies ranging from 50 Hertz to 60 Hertz.
The main problem is figuring out how to get the square thingy into the round thingy or vice verse. In other words, you’ll need an adapter plug, a connector that changes the plug shape to match the outlet for the country you are traveling to.
Converters – Hair dryers are a bit trickier. Since they are powerful and use a lot of juice, you’ll need a converter to switch from 110 volts to a 220-volt source. Often, hair dryers do have a dual voltage switch to convert the voltage when in use. If you have one of those, you then would just need an adapter plug.
Tip: Don’t forget to switch to the correct voltage for the country you are in, otherwise you’ll destroy your hair dryer.
I’d recommend leaving the hair dryer at home and either using the one in your hotel room or purchasing a lightweight travel dual voltage hair dryer before you go on vacation. Don’t forget, you’ll still need an adapter.