50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

When compared to America, Europe is a land of cobblestone streets, weird customs, good food, throaty languages, and gorgeous nature. For most, it will come as a surprise to see the differences in traditions, infrastructures, and social systems (at least it did for us). If you’re planning a trip over to Europe, check out these 50 things to know when planning your first trip to Europe.

1. Europe is very green and you will always be close to nature, but also very wet.  For many, this might not come as a surprise, but seeing as we are from Southern California, we were very shocked by how often it rained, even in the middle of summer.

2. If you plan on staying in Europe for more than two weeks, I highly recommend that you follow peoples’ suggestions on buying a travel umbrella for your trip.

3. France… just France.  Yes, it’s as amazing as everyone says.  Good food, beautiful scenery, and nice people.  Even Paris, which is very expensive, is incredible and everyone we met was helpful and kind.

Related Blog: Outdoor Adventure Road Trip Through France

Hossegor, France 2017

Le Culs Nus Beach and the beautiful Hossegor backdrop

Related Blog: 9 Reasons To Visit Hossegor, France

4. Indulge in French chocolate and pastries.  Never have I tasted such amazing desserts. 

5. Bread is extremely cheap and often delivered right to your campground.  In some places, like Germany, it was frowned upon to not order bread for the next morning.

6. French doctors are surprisingly affordable and extremely knowledgeable (but try not to get hurt during siesta hours). If you have to go to a doctor during this time, around noon to 3 pm, call 112 which is the European equivalent of 911.

Related Blog: Do You Need Travel Insurance? 4 Times We Wish We Had Travel Insurance

7. Portugal in the off-season is the best place you could visit if you are looking for car/RV camping or are on a budget.  Look for Intermarché grocery stores, which often have dumping and refilling stations for your camper and a laundromat on site.

Related Blog: Surfing Portugal: For Intermediate Surfers, Adventurers, and Campers 

Free Camping Portugal Praia Amado

Portugal is a Vagabond/Surfer’s Paradise. Like here at Praia Amado here.

8. Nearly everyone speaks English (except the French).

 9. The term ‘Angry Italian’ is very very real (but not threatening).  Driving in Italy can be intense as everyone drives very aggressively there.

Related Blog: Arco: A Climbers Paradise

10. Croatia has great inexpensive food (especially produce and fish), beautiful National Parks, and almost everyone speaks English.

11. In Croatia, they sell wine on tap in some of the campgrounds (you can fill a one-liter bottle for only a few dollars!).

Related Blog: 5 Best Destinations In Croatia

Campgrounds in Croatia sell wine on tap.

12. Beach regulations are different.  Although not everywhere, there are a lot of nude beaches (you’ve been warned) and lifeguards are not as prevalent nor helpful as in America, so swim/surf at your own risk. Once when our family member got hurt while surfing in France, we ran to get the lifeguard and asked for an ice pack.  They said they didn’t have any and proceeded to watch TV BUT there was an extremely kind, helpful person on the beach who helped us get to the doctor.

Related blog: How To Let Karma Into Your Life

13. While the Southeast of France is a famous vacation location, the Southwest is far more amazing, cheaper, and less touristy.  (It also has our favorite town in all of Europe—Hossegor).

14. Switzerland really is significantly more expensive but is still completely worth the visit.  The Alps are the mother of all mountain ranges.

Reasons we love Interlaken, Switzerland -Oeschinensee

Hiking past cows in the Alps

Related Blog: Road Trip Switzerland

15. The countries with the harshest weather also have the kindest people (Ireland, Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland) in our opinion.

16. Unlike America, there is very rarely traffic (and if there is it’s because you are close to a large city).  We highly recommend spending as much time as you can in the smaller towns and villages–there are so many great ones to see!

Related Blog: 15 Adventures In Northern Spain

17. Don’t spend all your time in big cities and miss all the true beauties of Europe.  Most villages have their own baker, butcher, and produce stand.  Even the smallest villages often have an inn, a restaurant, and a church too.

Laruns, France 50 Things to know before your first trip to Europe

Buying our bread for the day in Laruns, France

18. In small towns, people aren’t used to seeing Americans (so make a good impression and be nice).

19. If you have to drive across a country, account for toll roads in your budget.  The toll roads in Italy, Croatia, and Spain were fairly inexpensive, but to drive all the way across France can be very pricey (up to 100 Euros in a camper).  *The gas stations along the toll roads are very nice with picnic areas, restaurants (AutoGrill), and many allow you to sleep for a limited time overnight.

travel by train in Europe, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

It is so easy and comfortable to travel by train in Europe

20. If your trip is short, you are on a budget, or you simply want a convenient way to travel, the train and bus systems in Europe are easy to use no matter where you want to go, which makes it easy and enjoyable to backpack between towns. 

21. It’s very easy to travel through Europe on a bike due to the abundance of bike paths, especially in the Netherlands.  (Biking along the Mosel River Valley in Germany is now on our bucket list.)

Danny running in Netherlands, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

Danny & I dropped our RV in Utrecht and ran 13 miles to the train station past tons of sheep then easily hopped on a train to Haarlem. Travel is super easy in Europe!

Related Blog: 6 Castles You Have To Visit In Europe 

22. Narrow cobblestone streets are the norm and I wouldn’t recommend taking a large vehicle down one (especially in Italy).  If you have a large vehicle, park outside of town and walk/bus in.  Also, be careful of the old cobblestone roads, they can be quite slippery.

driving the RV into the center of Haarlem, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

Seriously! What was I thinking driving the RV into the center of Haarlem?!

23. To all peanut lovers, real peanut butter (meaning not Jiffy) is very difficult to find in Europe.

24. To all vegans/vegetarians, it’s really cheap and easy to live on bread, cheese (for vegetarians), veggies, and wine everywhere in Europe (even in Norway and Switzerland, which, in general, are very expensive).

25. To all paleos, cows graze on grass everywhere, but finding beef labeled “grass fed” in harder than you’d think.  We’re pretty sure it’s because grass-fed is just the standard in many European countries, especially if you buy at local markets.  

Rock Climbing Sonthofen Germany: Best Sport Climbing Destinations To Take Your Kids

Everywhere you look in Europe you will see cows and sheep!

26. In large cities, and some small ones, eat pizza (AKA tartes flambe in France) with a fork and knife.

27. In large cities, do not eat out at the restaurants with multiple languages on the menu (this is clearly a tourist trap).

28. The top of most mountains have restaurants, so you can hike without packing snacks.

Sella Pass in the Dolomites, Italy, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

We love the Dolomites!!! Can you believe this view from the restaurant?!

29. In many countries, water doesn’t come free to the table.

30. In Germany in particular, beer is cheaper than water in restaurants.

31. Kids over age 15 can drink alcohol in most European countries.  (In a private household, the drinking age is six!)

Danny drinking in Spain, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

“Mom, are you sure I’m allowed to drink?!”

32. Almost everyone seems to smoke in Europe. Get used to the smell.

33. Unlike America, there is a town every few miles making you never far from food, a cold drink, or civilization.

50 things to know before your first trip to Europe- Bergen, Norway

You will love how everyone gathers in town squares to share a meal and laugh!

Related Blog: Eating Your Way Through Ireland

34. Unless you want to look like a tourist, don’t wear shorts or sandals in big cities like Florence, Rome, and Paris (we did and got plenty of shocked stares).  Regardless of what you may have heard, Europeans do wear jeans.

Venice Italy, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

Dirtbags wear jeans and flip flops in Venice, Italy 🙂

35. Camping is run way differently in Europe.  You are charged per person not by site, which was very expensive in countries like Germany where free camping was hard to find, but actually very affordable in Norway since we were there in the shoulder season.

36. Camping in Europe is much easier than in the States.  Most campgrounds have free hot showers, dish washing stations, and stores or restaurants on site.

Related Blog: Guide To Tent Camping In Europe

37. Most campgrounds are pitches, which are large grassy areas with a few electricity stands that a dozen or so other campers share.  

camping in Wales, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

Camping at one of our favorite campground in Wales

Related Blog: 7 Adventurous Things To Do In Wales

38. There are no water and sewage “hookups” like in America.  (There are electricity and water ones though).  Sewage is stored in a cartridge which must be dumped by hand into a special toilet (yeah, it’s a bit gross), while sink water is dumped over a large grate in the floor.

39. Camper stops are extremely cheap and have a place to dump your cartridge and refill water.  Many also have electricity and/or showers.

Camping in Europe, 50 Things to know before your first visit to europe

Aire de Camping Cars (camper stop) in Hossegor, France

40. If you have money to spend, a lot of campgrounds can be like staying at a 5-star resorts, with oceanfront bars and pools with waterslides, especially common in Croatia.

41. Norway has the best campers kitchens in all of Europe!

Related Blog: 4 Best Campgrounds To Stay At In Central Norway

best campground in central Norway

Love these campers kitchens in Norway!

42. Open a Charles Schwabb checking account and use it at ATM’s in Europe.  They don’t charge any ATM fees and have a very competitive exchange rate.

Related Blog: How To Save Money To Travel

43. Beware of pickpockets.  I’m not saying to buy “pickpocket- proof” bags and belts, just be smart and don’t leave valuables in an easy spot to grab especially at train stations and other crowded areas.

Related Blog: What to Pack For Long Term Travel and Camping Abroad

44. School and work schedules are much more strict in Europe and it’s very hard for people to get time off, which is why things are so much more crowded in the two summer months.  If you can, travel in the shoulder season of June and September.

Related Blog: How To Plan An Epic Trip

45. However, Europeans get a lot more year-round vacation time than Americans and it shows in their relaxed and happy attitude towards life.

Hiking in the Lake District, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe

Hiking in the Lake District requires a bit of scrambling and exposure to heights, but the views are so rewarding

46. Ireland and the UK are beautiful, but be warned that it constantly rains and it’s rarely warm.

47. Hiking in the UK is a unique experience and often involves scrambling over rocks to get to the top.  I highly recommend carrying topographical maps so you don’t get lost since trails are unmarked and go on for a very long time.

Related Blogs: 4 Fearless Hikes in the U.K. and 5 Must Do Hikes in Ireland

48. Refuges, cabins for rent in the middle of the mountain ranges, can save a lot of money and allow you to access the most pristine nature.

Taking in the view from the refuge at the top of Molden in Norway

Taking in the view from the refuge at the top of Molden in Norway

49. For rock climbers…Germans are hard core when it comes to setting routes so expect the routes to be run out and often sandbagged.

Related Blog: Best Places To Go Climbing in Europe For Beginners and Best Sport Climbing Destinations for Families

50. Europe in general has a ton of climbing making it a perfect vacation destination for families who love to climb and many spots have less than a five minute approach!  

Related Blog: How We traveled the World For 3 Years With 5 Kids

Best rock climbing- Spain

Climbing Galdames

 

Europeans in general are happy, kind, and polite.  Smile, say hello and thank you (ciao, buongiorno, bon jour, guten morgen, halo, buenos dias, goede dag, merci, grazie, danke, hvala, gracias, etc) and you’ll be surprised by how receptive the cultures are.

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Headed to Europe?  Got questions? Tell us in the comments below and we’d be happy to give you any tips.

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50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe