I spent the last 3 weeks jumping around Western Europe with one of my roommates, John, and I learned several lessons along the way. First, I learned some useful tips for travelling through Western Europe and second, I learned some good lessons for life in general. Many of them are not city specific, but I’ve listed them based on what city I was in when I chose to write it down.
- Accept help from strangers (assuming they are less than sketchy), but know when to stop and move on. John and I met Gary at the airport while we were waiting to fly standby. The three of us waited roughly 13 hours to catch a flight. After getting to know each other a bit, Gary ended up offering his place in Trier, Germany as a place to stay on our first night. John and I had no plan and we enjoyed Gary’s company: we accepted. Gary has such a kind heart and is extremely generous. He would have continued offering supplies, his home, meals, and fine wine for as long as we wished to stay with him. However, we went to Europe to learn and relying on Gary’s hospitality would have been too much of a handicap. Following a million ‘thank you’s and an exchange of contact info, John and I left the following day to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.
- Pick your top priority cities and go there first. We agreed on Paris as our top priority, and I am very glad we headed there in the beginning. The days definitely disappear faster towards the end of the trip and we would not have had all the time we wanted to enjoy the city. Also, we were utterly exhausted by the end of the trip and would not have had the energy that Paris requires.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
- Sometimes a “traditional” sausage just tastes like a hot dog.
- Water is not free and unlimited. However, if you specify that you want tap water, they might judge you, but they won’t charge you.
- Keep a travel journal.
- The pastries and macaroons are worth it. My friend, Kerstin, recommended Ladurée for macaroons and I second that recommendation. They are pretty pricey but I would say it is worth going once, even if you just get 3 macaroons like I did.
- Don’t ever assume you’ll have the chance to return to a shop, bar, or attraction; you probably won’t. If you see something that you actually want that’s within your budget, get it. If you meet someone that you want to stay in touch with, get their contact info before you leave.
- Splitting the price of a cheap hotel can sometimes be cheaper than paying per person at a hostel.
- Always ask/verify whether or not breakfast is complimentary (aka, free or “included in the room price”). John and I were so used to complimentary breakfast, that we didn’t even think to ask when we saw it set out in the morning. If you see croissants, fruit, coffee, and yogurt set out and you decide to go for it, you could end up with an extra €30 on your bill when you leave. Luckily, the hotel was already dirt cheap and the extra money for 3 days didn’t take us over budget.
- Sometimes the cheapest travel to your next destination involves an unplanned pit stop. Looking at travel from Paris to London, we found it cheaper to take a train to Lille in the morning and then catch an overnight bus to London. That meant we had the day to spend in Lille, and it ended up being one of my favorite stops. We met some really awesome people and saw some beautiful sights.
- Meeting people is the best part of travel. Talk to everyone!
London, United Kingdom
- Overnight buses are the way to go. You don’t have to spend anything on lodging for the night, and you don’t waste any of your exploring time with transportation. Leave at 11pm and arrive at 7am? I’m sold. Granted, your night won’t be as restful so definitely get some rest at the hostel or hotel the following night.
- If your feet hurt from days and days of walking, rent a bike. It saves time and some cities, London specifically, have pretty fair prices.
- Triple check the date of any travel or lodging that you book. John and I made it to the London Victoria Coach Station with minutes to spare for our 2100 coach to Glasgow. I showed our tickets to the nice lady at the door, had one foot in the bus, and then I heard “Hold on, let me see that ticket again.” After seeing my ticket, she handed it back to me saying, “I’m sorry, Love, this ticket is for tomorrow.” I couldn’t quite register what she said. I enjoyed London but I did not want to spend the night there. Luckily, she waited for John to sprint to the ATM and accepted £20 for us to take the last two seats on that coach.
Glasgow, United Kingdom
- Find time for your passions and talents. I haven’t played my bagpipes all summer, but hearing them in Glasgow made me realize that I don’t want to lose that talent. I’ve practiced every day since returning.
- If you want to gain factual knowledge about a place, get a guided tour. If you want your own schedule and time to simply take it all in, go on your own. John and I thought a tour of the Highlands and Loch Ness would be awesome, especially because it also provided transportation there. It was amazing, but I would have liked to spend more time in some places and less in others. I just wanted to hike everywhere, but we were constrained to this tour because we had paid for it. Like I said, it was great to learn about the area, but not so much for simply exploring. Definitely plan on returning and hiking the West Highland Way.
Amsterdam & Zaanse Schans, Netherlands
- If you want to go, and you can go, then go. Literally, just go. If you don’t have anyone to go with you, go alone. If you are scared, that’s probably more of a reason to go. If you don’t have a plan, make one up as you go. If you don’t have the money, read the one bajillion blog posts from other people who have traveled Europe on a budget, save a little each month, and then go.
- Having absolutely no plan can only take you so far. I am a huge supporter of making up a plan as you go, but if there is something you would really like to do, it might be worth checking ahead and making your reservation. John and I wanted to do a bike tour through Amsterdam, but they were booked all the way through the few days we had there. Fortunately, the nice man at Mike’s Bike Tours gave us a tip that we could bus out to Zaanse Schans and do our own countryside bike ride.
- Getting lost can have it’s benefits. Don’t stress too much when lost, be confident that you’ll figure it out. Our countryside bike ride ended up lasting much longer than anticipated, but I got a good tan (sunburn, but I’ll call it a tan) and some great memories in Holland.
- Staying outside of the city can save on lodging. Geneva’s lodging options were all out of our budget. However, we found a considerably cheaper option in nearby Gaillard, France. It was only a 25 minute tram ride to get to the city, and we were saving a lot more by staying there than we were spending on those tram rides.
- The person/people you choose to share adventures with will definitely determine the experience.
- Sometimes you imagine and plan on sharing adventures with one person, and then you end up going with someone completely different. I’m not sure what this taught me. Maybe, don’t have expectations? You can find adventure with anyone? Anyway, that’s a whole new can of worms on relationships and friendships that’s outside the scope of this blog. #thatswhatjournalsarefor