The first-timers guide to Europe

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The Tower Bridge in London

Photo credit: Eddie Hobson

Whether your 19, 29 or 59, your first trip to Europe is an eye-opening and unforgettable experience. It takes a fair bit of saving to get there (and even longer in the actual plane), but what awaits you at the other end of that 22 hour journey is a continent bursting at the borders with incredible food, history, culture and food. Did we mention food? Food.

There’s no ‘right’ way to do Europe (although every man and his dog will try and tell you otherwise…). However, there are a few friendly tips we can share with you to ensure your first time in Europe goes as smoothly as the butter you’ll smear on your baguettes.

Planning and packing

The key to planning your Eurotrip is to remember…Europe isn’t going anywhere. Don’t feel like you need to cram every country in the Eurozone into your two week itinerary. You can always go back (and believe us, you’ll want to).

Do some research and plan to visit places you want to see, not what every man, guidebook and travel blog tells you you have to see. Europe is one big continent of ‘chill’ (in attitude and weather) so take it easy by doing and seeing Europe in your own way.

When it comes to packing, remember whatever you pack, you have to carry or pull behind you. A lot of European city streets are cobble-stoned and have underground railway systems, so use a suitcase that is easy to manoeuvre. Reduce your weight limit by opting for travel-sized toiletries and enjoy the experience of having to buy new shampoo and conditioner in a pharmacy somewhere in Germany.

Don’t forget to apply for your TID Travel Money Card  while you’re buying your travel insurance and load up on plenty of Euros before you take off.

Getting there

The flight from Australia to Europe is one of the longest journeys out there, so be prepared to feel a little knocked around by jet lag once you arrive. Drink plenty of water on the flight and plan when you’re going to sleep so you arrive either fresh-faced for the day, or tired enough to go to sleep at night.

Depending on where you’re flying into, arriving in a non-English speaking country at 2am in the morning can feel a bit over-whelming. We believe in always travelling in a way that makes you feel safe (especially if you’re travelling alone). So don’t be afraid to spend a few extra coins to catch a taxi or organise a hotel or hostel transfer if it’s late at night.

Being there

It sounds obvious, but don’t expect Europe to be like Australia. The people are different. The etiquettes different (sometimes even a bit confronting). Go with the flow, have an open mind and step outside your comfort zone.

Use the local public transport. Venture outside of the popular tourist spots. Eat eat eat, and not just at the top 3 restaurants on TripAdvisor where you’ll simply be dining with every other Australian, American and Englishman in the area. Don’t be afraid to dine at places where the menu isn’t available in English. If you can’t afford to do expensive things, the one authentic thing you can do is eat local food. It will literally give you a great taste of the country and culture.

Be careful crossing the street – it’s something your mother has spent your life reinforcing, and when it comes to Europe, we couldn’t agree with her more. From bustling city streets, to small town squares, the roads in Europe are narrow and between the cars, bicycles, mopeds, vans, buses and taxis hurtling down the cobblestones, there’s always a lot going on.

Finally, don’t freak out if your hotel or hostel takes a copy of your passport at check-in. This is pretty standard and required by law.

Fitting in

Whether you catch the wrong train, say the wrong thing in Spanish, or order foie gras purely by accident, accept that you’re probably going to make some mistakes. The best thing you can pack for your Eurotrip is your sense of humour – embrace the cultural differences and language barriers.

Pull up Tripwise  on your phone and learn some local phrases. Simply knowing how to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, or ‘I don’t speak the language’ can go a long way. Most importantly, don’t presume everyone can speak English (You’re in Europe, remember?) If you’re chatting to a local, politely ask first if they speak English before launching into conversation.

As we said earlier, Europe is all about ‘chill’ and as such, more European countries operate on a different schedule to the rest of the world. It’s not unusual for a lot of places to open late in the morning and shut for a short time after lunch. Europeans like to nap. Embrace ‘the nap’ as dinner is usually eaten quite late (think 10pm onwards) and clubbing starts even later (some clubs don’t even open until 2am).

Getting around

Be prepared to walk. Walk, walk, walk. Walk everywhere. Wear comfy shoes and be prepared to pound the pavement. The best part? Walking won’t cost you a thing.

Most major cities will have pretty advanced public transport, but you may find the public transport in smaller or financially-hardened countries will leave much to be desired. Buses won’t arrive and trains won’t leave from the platform originally advertised. Give yourself plenty of travel time, particularly if you’re catching trains to the airport or onto a new country.

Also be prepared for lots of tourists, especially around bit ticket tourist destinations. If you’re planning on visiting any tourist attractions, always look online beforehand to see if you can prepurchase tickets. These are often cheaper and can save you time waiting in line or possibly missing out entirely. For non-ticketed attractions, get up and go early in the day unless you want to share the experience with hundreds of other people.

Where there’s tourists, you will inevitably find pickpockets. Pickpockets aren’t mystical unicorns – they do exist and they will pinch your personal items if you haven’t zipped and clipped them away in a bag.

Coming home

If you’re returning to Australia with some good travel stories and a thousand photos you can’t wait to show your friends, it sounds like you’ve done Europe the right way. And by that, we mean, your way. The only thing left to do is plan what you’re going to see when you go back.


Kristen Hyde is a freelance wordsmith from Sydney who now lives in London because she heard the weather was awesome. You can follow her adventures in ol’ Blighty at Where in the World is KH. For more instantaneous updates of her travels, what she eats, and what she sees on the Tube, you can follow her on Instagram.


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