As I sit at my computer today, I know soon many Americans will be heading to Europe soon to begin their adventure known as Eurorailing. Many will be college students looking for a break from their classes, some will be those who have finished school and have not found that dream job yet, and still others will be professionals stuck in a dead-end job, who quit it for a few months of excitement before looking for another dead end job. No matter who you are, and why you come over here, let me give you a few tips to make your experience better for all of us. I've learned these from my own experiences on the rails and highways of life, as well as talking to many fellow travelers.
1. Overnight trains make for cheap sleeping. - If you can sleep in a moving train, this saves you money on hostels, not to mention the time to find a good one. This also frees up your day to sightsee instead of traveling.
2. Not everyone speaks English. - Many come here and expect everyone to speak English. Well, unless you go to England, that won't be the case. Deal with it. Also speaking slower and louder doesn't always mean they will understand.
3. When you are in Europe you are not in America. - I don't know how many people I've heard complaining that things are not like America. No joke. If you want to travel with all the American conveniences, might I suggest going to St. Louis or Des Moines. During your travel in Europe you might encounter bathrooms that don't have seats, local dialects that don't even sound like the national language, or an extreme shortage of Dr. Pepper. You'll just have to adjust, and make the most of it. It is all part of the adventure.
4. Parks in London are not campgrounds. They close at night, and police patrol the area. This is true of many other cities as well.
5. Churches, and many museums request that you wear long pants when you visit. Respect them enough to cover your legs, which probably aren't worth showing off anyway.
6. Don't over tip - many places include the gratuity in the price. Check with someone to see for sure. But don't just throw your money around, like you are a rich American.
7. Octoberfest has been moved to September.
8. Take care if you decide to run with the bulls. Bulls sense movement. So if you fall, lay still until they pass. It is better to have some broken ribs than a hole pierced through your spleen.
9. Don't just come for the cheap beer. I've heard many travelers talk about where they can find the cheapest beer. They have even suggested several towns not by their beauty or culture, but by the price of a pint. If you want cheap beer stay at home, and convince your friends to buy it for you.
10. Be nice to the people - This stems from one of my pet peeves. People move at different speeds, have different priorities, and see things differently. If you are frustrated with this, stay calm, and continue to respect the people you come in contact. Also, just because you are paying a person for a service (bus driver, waiter, tour guide, hit man) doesn't give you the right to treat them like dirt.
11. If you can't live with out your Oreos, stay home. I hinted on it earlier, but if you crave certain American products, be ready to do with out. Believe it or not, they don't carry every product you use on a daily basis. For example: BooBerry cereal, Eazy Cheese, Pop Tarts, and Spam.
12. McDonalds is not the only food available. Try something new, break out of the fast food rut. Try a local dish.
13. Try not to be loud and/or obnoxious. This is a common stereotype of Americans, and many who visit do their best to continue this stereotype. Shock some one by acting in a quiet, respectful manner.
14. Leave Rick at home. A huge source of laughter to me is seeing people standing in front of a beautiful monument looking at a travel book instead of the monument. My suggestion is go to the local library before you leave. Read a couple good travel books. Copy some pages, make some notes of things you want to see, but then leave the book behind. Many times my best adventures have been in the hunting down of the major sites.
15. On the same note, let me suggest some books. Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There, Nino Lo Bello's The Travel Trivia Handbook of Oddball European Sights, any from the Culture Shock series or the Rick Steves series of travel books.
16. Beat jet lag. When you arrive stay awake until nine in the evening before getting to sleep. You might feel tired all day, but I have yet to have jet lag by doing this.
17. Hostels. A few warnings. Some of the cheapest have reason for that. They are either in the red light district, or have cut the costs of things like hot water in the showers and pass the savings on to you. Also be warned that many are co-ed. I've gone to bed with a couple guys in the room, and awoke with a gal in the bed next to me. (not the same bed, but the one next to mine.)
18. Don't ruin it for those of us living here. Many Americans are living over here. We are friends with the shop owners, tour guides, and citizens of this continent. We remain here in the off season and have to pick up the pieces when you leave. Be a good representative of your country.
19. Be aware of hazardous political situations. - Before you head over here be sure to know if any regions are facing civil wars, general strife, or under NATO attacks. This might sound obvious, but this is not always something one things about.
20. Dress to blend in, not stand out. Even though we still stick out a little, a game some friends of mine like to play at times is "spot the American." Some travelers make this too easy. The top prize goes to a guy I saw in Italy with a red, white and blue scarf, cowboy hat, bright yellow clam digger shorts, a florial beach shirt, an oversized hip pouch, socks hiked up, and at least one camera hanging around his neck.
21. Border guards are not known for their senses of humor.
22. Be prepared for unexpected situations. Museums go on strike, stores close at weird hours, scheduled trains don't show up, your book shows a ferry leaving from a port that shipping boats dock at. These are all possibilities you might encounter, be ready.
For some fun in your travels try Train Stop Blitz