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Top 5 Tips for Students Traveling in Europe

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United States passport
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If you’re lucky enough to be flying abroad during summer vacay (or are maybe planning for study abroad this fall), let this be your travel guide when trekking through Europe. I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing just this, so I have plenty of tips to share.

Here are my top five tips for visiting Europe, from shopping to packing and everything you need to know in between.

1. Budget!

Pound coins stacked
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We know – summer vacation is time for fun, not time for scrimping and saving like you did all semester. But if you’re hitting a few hotspots in Europe this summer, you should keep track of your spending.

Before you leave, plan out your money for every day of your trip – for food, gifts, transport, and everything else – and then add an extra 10-15% for emergencies. It might seem like a lot, but you’ll be happy to have the cushion of cash when you need a late night taxi or you decide to splurge a bit on crepes for the group in Paris.

Once you have all your money together, remember a few important notes:

  • Keep cash in several places, like in a hotel safe and with you. That way if you’re pick-pocketed, you’ll still have back up. ATMs around Europe are also usable if you find yourself in an emergency cash situation.
  • A lot of small markets and cafes don’t accept cards – bring enough cash with you to cover these places.
  • Buy gifts and souvenirs sparingly and smartly – cities like Oslo will be very expensive, where stalls in Turkey will have cheaper, more unique gifts.

2. Safety First

Pickpocket warning sign
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It sounds like common sense, but safety is key when traveling through Europe – even if you’re in a group! The most important thing is to be aware of your surroundings, but there are specific things to look out for to make sure you travel back home safe with good memories (and all your belongings!)

First and foremost, if you’re of legal age to drink, be cautious and smart. Don’t overdo it, and be vigilant – stay together in a group, get a taxi back to your hotel or hostel, and always buy your own drinks. Stick together and look out for one another – that way, everyone has a good (and safe!) time.

Pick-pocketing is very common in Europe. To avoid falling victim to scams and stealing, do not give anyone money, keep expensive items out of sight, don’t wear expensive jewelry and never leave your bag unattended. It’s basic advice, but it’s important – and saves you a lot of trouble.

Just in case anything does go wrong, make a note of where your country’s embassy is in every city you’re visiting – they’ll help with lost passports and other theft. Also make sure your family back home has copies of your itinerary, credit card numbers, and any other important info in case you need it.

3. Go Local

Bratwurst cooked on a grill at a German market
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Famous food items are often cheaper at market stalls than in restaurants, so if you’re craving a bratwurst in Berlin or a curry in London, check out the local areas for food markets. You should also see if there are festivals or local events going on – they’re great places to get cheap meals and cool souvenirs.

Also, knowing what to wear is a tough decision, but you can almost never go wrong by wearing smart casual in European cities. Locals can spot a tourist a mile away by their sweatpants and flip-flops – fine for the plane, but not great for the street. And if you need to accessorize but are avoiding showing off expensive or nice jewelry, stock up on costume rings and necklaces before you go.

And finally, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few basic phrases – like please, thank you, hello, and goodbye – when traveling to a new country. Even if your accent is a little off, they’ll appreciate your effort.

4. Pack Smart

Contents of a bag
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If you’re staying in a budget hotel or a hostel, definitely bring travel-sized toiletries with you. A lot of money-saving places don’t offer these in rooms, so make sure you’ve got shampoo, soap, conditioner, and toothpaste at hand.

European plug adapters are a must! If you’re traveling through England and continental Europe, make sure it adapts for both – the UK uses a different plug and voltage than the rest of Europe.

Bring along a few other essentials, too: an extra memory card for your camera, a small lock for your backpack, an address list to send postcards back home, a thick sweater or windbreaker, good quality walking shoes, and don’t forget an umbrella! For a seriously in-depth packing checklist, try Rick Steves’ printable list.

5. Have a Great Time – and See Everything!

Louvre Museum at sunset
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Or, all the things you really want to see. Don’t exhaust yourself with trying to pack in every landmark, museum, or activity – just enjoy the ones that excite you the most, and you’ll have a great time. Remember – don’t spend your whole trip behind a camera. Some things are better as memories!

Tell us what you think!

Have you ever traveled to Europe? What did you think of these tips? What are your best travel tips? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think!

Posted on on July 7, 2013 / Filed Under: College Life / Tags: , , , ,

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14 Responses to “Top 5 Tips for Students Traveling in Europe”

  1. 1
    July 7th, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    A nice list but I feel a couple of specifics have been forgotten. One, most countries in Europe do NOT tip at restaurants as waiters and waitresses are payed a full and legit salary (unlike here) tipping is an easy way for an onlooker to pin you as the helpless lamb that is the American tourist. Two, if you are in France (Paris specifically) a. never say “merci beaucoup” it is overly formal textbook French, use “merci” and b. never, and I mean NEVER wear sneakers in Paris if you’re a woman. And three, get an ISID (International Student ID Card) as many museums offer discounts to students if you have one. =)

  2. 2
    July 7th, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Some good tips, but there is around 50 countries in Europe and they are all incredibly different from each other. It’s better to just research the specific country you’re going.

  3. 3
    July 7th, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    A great list! I’m a big believer in saving money by shopping for food at the local market. I also think you should leave room in your budget for a nice dinner or more expensive activity like skydiving– it’ll be worth the money as long as you planned for it.

  4. 4
    July 8th, 2013 at 5:43 am

    There is some great advice in this article, although I do agree with Elin that European countries vary immensely. Turkey is nothing like France etc. A little pet peeve though as a Brit, why do Americans use the UK and England interchangeably. The UK is comprised of four separate countries England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales under one Sovereign state. England is just one part of the UK or Great Britain, in the same way that New York is one of the 50 states which make up the United States.

  5. 5
    July 8th, 2013 at 7:07 am

    I’m going to completely disagree with Leigh. Definitely tip at restaurants, as a waitress who works in Europe, it’s upsetting that people think you should do otherwise, most waitresses here get minimum wage too. It doesn’t make you a helpless lamb; it makes you someone who appreciated the service you got, unless obviously you thought the service was bad, in which case, don’t.
    Wear sneakers if you want to. No-one cares. It’s not clothing that marks you as a tourist, most people who live here don’t dress up to go to the shop. What’ll mark you as a tourist will be the fact you’re taking pictures of everything and speaking in a different language or accent, because that’s what tourists do.

  6. 6
    July 8th, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Most of the list was strange. Why shouldn’t you wear ‘expensive jewelry’ in Europe? We have the safest cities in the world (Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen, Amsterdam…). Didn’t really get that part, sorry.
    Oh, and about the tipping; it really does vary from country to country. For example, if you tip in Italy, they see it as an insult but feel free to tip in Austria, Germany and so on but it is also fine if you don’t tip at all.

  7. 7
    July 8th, 2013 at 8:36 am

    I never quite understood the big deal about being perceived as a tourist. I traveled around Europe and America and no one cares that you are tourist, and no one tries to make extra money off of you (at least in my case), or whatever other reasons you might have for blending in. People are generally pretty nice and helpful, and, unless they are clearly in a rush, they will always try to help you find your way around or whatever other “touristy” concerns you may have.
    You might wanna know some basic phrases in Spanish/German because most Europeans will speak at least a little bit of either language.
    Bring some actual casual clothing for Europe if you are very concerned about being perceived as a tourist. Sweatpants/flip flops/uggs might just give you away.
    I usually tip about the same both in Europe and America, although I don’t understand the reason behind waiters in America only getting tips and no actual salary. Not sure why I am responsible for paying their salary in a way. Oh well.
    Nice general article, but I agree that some specifics about different countries would be helpful.

  8. 8
    July 8th, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    I would say that you should be as careful as you would be in ANY large/capital city with your valuables. And it’s definitely true about learning a bit of the local language; people definitely appreciate the effort even if your accent’s all wrong!
    The tipping thing…well, that seems to be a minefield wherever you go! In the UK, we generally tip if you think the service was good, and you don’t tip if it wasn’t. Some people tip taxi drivers and hairdressers, but not bar staff.

    Above all, remember that England and the UK are NOT the same! You’ll get people upset if you say otherwise ;P

  9. 9
    July 9th, 2013 at 5:09 am

    Hm, there are a few points made here…
    Firstly, if you are a young person travelling in Europe, you are probably over 18. Know that you can drink wine and beer from age 16 in most European countries, and stronger drinks from 18. None of this 21 nonsense. But you are also expected to drink responsibly, even more so as a female!!! (rights vs. obligations!) Although this doesn’t always hold in the UK, it’s never attractive to see girls any more than “merry”! Remember, in Europe, if you’re drinking alcohol in a group, you may be called on for some particularly philosophical discussions, more so the further south you travel LOL! You’ll need to keep your head.
    Safety is a matter of common sense – use it! But no need to be paranoid.
    Food is definitely NOT cheaper at festivals – there’s a premium for someone having hauled it there! Cheapest is to discover what local supermarkets sell or go to the smallest cafés/bistrots, rather than restaurants. In the UK it isn’t always easy to find the local specialities – cafés rather than restaurants, maybe. Food in pubs is generally good, in “carveries” generally cheap, but not that typical. And for heaven’s sake, don’t eat fish and chips in a restaurant – it’s authentic to get a paper-wrapped takeaway and eat outdoors, in a park or on a cold, windy beach!!
    Tipping IS very variable. Unless the service is really careless or unfriendly (which is rare), I at least round the final sum up a little in a café or restaurant, and in a really good restaurant with professional service I will often leave 5-10%. It also sometimes depends on the currency, but I have never experienced tips being refused!! Some countries include them in the bill, others don’t – be informed…
    Americans have a reputation for being overgenerous, overloud, overbearing and generally larger-than-life, so if you just try to be quiet, polite, flexible and interested, you should be able to improve this reputation ;o English is usually fine, and attempts to speak a strangled version of the local language not always appreciated, in my experience… embarrassing when the local doesn’t even understand what you are trying to say, often the case :o We also know all about life in the US, so don’t expect us to be as ignorant about it as you probably are about Europe!
    Also, please remember that we are used to buildings/artefacts being more than one or two hundred years old and gushing about them isn’t necessary. Keep that back for the sights that are one or two thousand years old!! We know we have a lot of very beautiful and special sights/sites… :)

    (My references for these tips are being British/European for nearly 50 years!)

  10. 10
    July 9th, 2013 at 5:12 am

    Don’t take your expensive cell phone or computer, buy a cheap pay as you go phone when you get there. Watch out for gypsies, everywhere! Some very safe cities are in Europe but ALL touristy cities attract sketchy people. And really no one cares what you wear, especially the warmer countries-the locals wear flip flops too! Pack all the clothes you think you need then cut that in half. There are free walking tours everywhere. And at least twice a week while backpacking, even in a major city, my credit card wouldn’t work at places that take cards, European cards seem to have a chip that ours don’t. And use airbnb.com to give yourself a break from hostels :-)

  11. 11
    July 10th, 2013 at 6:35 am

    this is very confusing. i was quite weird when i red the article. i´m european (german). as you put all europe into one cup of tea :-/. you can´t say that europe is generally dangerous. if you walk around in tourist citys like london, paris or rom – that´s just the way it is – there are pocket thiefs like in every tourist-city/place. but it sounds so weird to me that people from a county where you can buy guns everywhere call europe dangerous :DDDD it´s just hilarious.
    “don´t wear expensive jewellery” <– seriously?!?!?! :D
    i´m sure that the most places in europe are quite safe. and as many others commented: it depends on the county you re going.

  12. 12
    August 25th, 2013 at 8:18 am

    I’m currently in Europe and this was super helpful! I flew/traveled for the first time by myself so it was nice to read some things about budgeting and safety etc. before I left.
    Thanks,
    Karine

  13. 13
    September 23rd, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Such tips will help to make a college student’s backpacking through Europe both more affordable than it is otherwise. Planning in advance can help students to save on big-ticket items, such as transportation and accommodation, and consciously eating where the locals eat can save them significantly on food. Last as an Student when I visited to UK my friend ordered for me UK SIM Cards for FREE from PrePayMania, they just charged 2.50 pound for delivering it to my home country. You can look in to other options also. there are lot of other providers like 0044, Phones4U, WorldSim..!

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