First trip to Europe - a collection of thoughts and reminders
My parents went on their first trip to Europe back in April. They sailed on a Viking Danube cruise to most of the cities I visited in 2016. So, they saw Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, and a few other cities in Austria and Germany. I guess they were really charmed by the photos I shared with them. As they should be, Central and Eastern Europe are wonderful and lovely.
I had a few discussions with my mom about what to pack (for both of them) in order to not look like a tourist and thus not be a target. And eventually, they listened and did some shopping. They were comfortable and felt like they blended well. They were also prepared for the cobblestone streets and stairs of walking tours, as well as the weather!
After our discussions, I started thinking about advice I'd give to any traveler visiting another country for the first time and came up with this list and tips.
At the airport
- Quiet - airports in Europe are much quieter than the US, with not as many announcements. In fact, Americans can be friendly and loud. Being quieter is something I always recommend in order to not stand out as a target.
- Go to your gate and don't leave - European airports also much stricter about leaving the gate area once it is boarding time. Especially larger airports like LHR or CDG. Do all that you need to get done before you get to the gate and then make sure you don't have too many carry-ons once you're there. I think they're stricter about carry-on baggage as well.
- Pre-check - You might have it in the US, but that doesn't give you privileges everywhere. The rules are different in every airport so be prepared to possibly take off your watch and take your small tablet, phone, and anything electronic, your liquids will probably come out, you might have to take off your shoes. Don't grumble, the rules are different but that doesn't mean it is better in one place or another. And don't verbally compare, just comply.
- Immigration - don't take out your phone, don't talk loudly, don't take photos, etc. Have your passport out and ready to go and explain why you're in the country and how long you'll be there, as well as if it is for leisure or business. These are easy, standard questions. It is usually really early when you're in this line from a US flight so being quiet is appreciated here as well. Also, know exactly where you're going upon arrival, whether it is a hotel name or an Airbnb address. In Panama last year, my friends and I stayed in an Airbnb in a neighborhood called Casco Viejo that was unrecognizable to the customs agents. My friend and I went through together and were explaining in Spanish and English and finally we got waved through but we were actually nervous that they were not going to let us stay at first!
- Attire - this can't be said enough, Europeans dress up a little more than Americans. Whether this means they are more stylish is a matter of opinion (I think yes). They would not be caught dead in public in pajama pants and most do not wear workout clothes unless they're exercising. Wear nice pants or dark jeans that are well fitted, comfortable, dark-colored shoes that are good for walking, NO shorts, NO logos, NO baseball hats, NO cargo anything, NO crazy prints like camouflage, etc. I sound like a killjoy and snobby but do you realize when you stand out too much, you become a target for pickpockets?
- Shoes - three pair of shoes is always my maximum. I usually bring a bootie that is comfortable for walking and a pair of leather or dark-colored sneakers. The third pair is dependent upon activity: if I'm running a race, it will be running shoes, if it is warmer, a sandal with back straps, if hiking is involved, hiking shoes. I would say you could sub in a comfortable, dressier shoe here but one could also pack a pair of taller boots. For men, I'd follow the same example, a nicer, comfy shoe, a smart-looking dark sneaker. Think about your comfort level and walking all day on uneven streets.
- General Packing - I always recommend picking a color palette and sticking to it. It makes packing and mixing and matching easier and you can bring fewer clothes that way. I tend to pick black, grey, and a dark blue or red. Wearing a lot of neutral colors also helps with not standing out.
- Make lists - I've planned several trips with friends who don't live in the same city as me, and I've made lists for myself, but I love Google sheets and docs for planning itineraries, making packing lists, keeping track of blogs, links, restaurant and hotel reservations, etc. It makes cross-country planning easier but it just keeps you organized. I even type tentative plans into my itineraries with links and options when I'm thinking about them so I can make final decisions more easily. I also like that you can download Google Drive to your phone and then refer to your itinerary or whatever you want, while you're on your trip.
I've been thinking about how some of these opinions may or may not apply depending on the continent. So, after I go to Africa in November, I will probably have an entirely new outlook.