As a young girl, a European young girl, I used to ask myself “What’s life like in America?”, giving the word America such a far, exotic and special meaning.
But as I started taking intercontinental trips, I saw that Europe is someone else’s America, and that also Americans, in particular US citizens, see my beloved Europa with curious eyes, as an exotic place, a kind of strange socialist Utopia (and I agree with them about it).
So now, after 20 years of travelling and interacting with amazing people from all over the world, I’m ready to give some cultural-but-very-practical recommendations to US citizens coming to Europe on their trip to this complex but amazing Utopia.
Not all European countries have Euro
So, while planning your trip schedule, consider where you must buy the local currency.
If you travel to Northern Europe you can easily pay everything with cards, whereas if you go to Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and other formerly communist countries, you might find it easier to pay with local cash (that I suggest you always change at the local airport).
Actually, you can easily use cards in the main cities (but please, don’t ask to pay just a simple 80 cent. donut by card!). Anyway, I recommend having some local currency in smaller cities.
*FOR NOW, UK is still in the EU area.
The Brexit process has begun (they say) but it’s going quite slowly. By the way, they’ve never used Euro as a currency.
Make Sure You Have A Valid Passport
Always make sure you’re travelling with a valid passport!
Many European countries require that your passport be valid at least six months beyond the time of your arrival, some other countries just need 3 months of remaining validity. I therefore recommend that you carefully check the compliance of your passport validity to be able to travel to all EU Countries and in the so-called Schengen area.
If you have any doubt, check this U.S. Passport Help Guide: Passport Renewal
Presently, U.S. citizens with a valid U.S. passport can visit Schengen countries and stay up to 90 days without a visa, but things might change from 2021, when you’ll probably need to fill out a form, the ETIAS, and pay a small fee (less than 10 dollars). 95% of cases, you’ll receive a positive response in a few minutes.
In case you get hurt…
Let me tell you, with some little happiness and pride, something about the above-mentioned socialist Utopia.
Nearly all European countries have a universal health care system, that isn’t actually “free” as many people wrongly say. The truth is that society, all people making up a country, pay taxes for health care to be granted to anyone. That’s the welfare state system.
I pay taxes so that also poorer people can get (also very expensive) treatments when needed.
Universal health care in Europe implies that everybody is taken care of, including foreigners.
So, if you get sick or injured while traveling, you will receive treatment.
Validate Your Bus and Train Tickets in Europe
Let’s get to some very useful tips for citizens with different local travel habits.
When you buy a train or bus ticket (not online), be sure to “validate” it before jumping on the train or after getting on the bus.
This because some trains have no assigned seat, you just get on and sit where you find a place. These kinds of tickets can be used for over 3-4 months unless you’ve already used them, and validating (i.e. printing the date using a small machine at the station or on the bus) is a way to make the ticket no more valid for the future.
This doesn’t apply to the online booked tickets that grant an assigned seat, valid just for one day.
Luggage: weight and dimension
Make sure your luggage is not too big, especially if you are planning to take internal European flights.
U.S Airlines have more hand luggage allowances than the European airlines.
Moreover, in Europe sometimes we also travel within the continent with low cost airlines, such as Ryan Air, EasyJet, WizzAir. If you will do that too, read carefully the luggage allowances for the kind of ticket you are buying and, if you need extra weight or extra luggage, you’ll pay for it at a reasonable cost while booking.
You can experience 10 up to 30 degrees differences from one country to another
I know Americans who are used to traveling within the US are well aware (much more than Europeans) of how different the climate can be within the same geopolitical entity.
Well, even if Europe is much smaller than the US and the climate is generally defined as temperate, in summer you can experience a 10 to 20 Celsius degrees difference between Scandinavian countries (Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden) and the Mediterranean ones (Italy, Spain, Greece etc.), and even 30 C° difference in winter.
So, if you are planning to visit more countries in summer or winter, be ready to have different kinds of outfits suitable for the change of climate.
In fall and spring, the difference can be lower or even absent, depending on the year… and the crazy climate change issues we’ve unfortunately been experiencing too.
When are you planning your trip to Europe?