As I prepared for my summer study abroad session, I asked every friend I knew that had ever been to Europe for advice, recommendations, and information that would help me get the best out of my three-week trip across Europe. But before taking off, I was wondering how much of this was actually true or what it would actually be like once I got there. I thought it would be helpful to share my personal experiences, in comparison to the advice I had been given.
Without further ado, here is the truth on three common study abroad tips and tricks given to people going on trip to Europe…
1. Do not tip your server at a restaurant.
It is true that servers in Europe make a sizably larger salary than in the U.S., but you need to thoroughly read your bill before paying. Certain restaurants will include a percentage for gratuity, and therefore you would not need to tip in that case. If there is no gratuity included, I found it is suggested to give a few euros/pounds per person, or 15% of the bill.
2. Order at the bar in a pub.
Even though I heard this prior to landing in London, I still hesitated and contemplated at my table for at least ten minutes when entering my first pub! When going to eat in a pub, you walk right in and seat yourself. There will be menus on the table – that will usually even say “Please order at the bar,” but of course that took me two trips to the pub to figure out. Once you’ve decided on what you’d like to have, go up to the bar and order both food and drinks and they will still bring your food to the table. Learn from my uncertainty and order from the bar with confidence!
3. There is a ton of grab and go food.
European cities have a fast-paced way of life. Everyone walks briskly with purpose on their way to their destination, especially during the work week. It is common to see Europeans walking the streets or on public transportation with a sandwich in hand. It is more common to grab lunch on the go than to dine in, and you are often charged a fee to eat in the store rather than take it to go.
My favorite place to get a quick meal was PAUL. It is a chain (similar to Pret a Manger), that offers a variety of coffee, sandwiches, baked goods and more. I preferred PAUL over Pret, as the atmosphere was calmer and more sophisticated and I personally liked the food better. I felt they consistently had a larger selection. Both of these chains are present throughout Europe – so definitely try out your nearest PAUL!
Now, here are a few of my own tips for you!
1. Download the “Citymapper” app.
Navigating new and foreign cities, especially dealing with public transportation, can become so confusing. It’s not always as simple as New York City’s subway or a local bus route. We started out confident in our own skills to be able to decipher the cities’ underground lines and quickly ended up in the opposite direction than we were supposed to be! There are so many different lines on the tube in London and the metro in Paris, that it can be quite intimidating at first glance to determine the correct way to get to your destination without getting lost.
Citymapper was so helpful for getting around the city – it will make transportation smooth throughout your time in big European cities. If you input your final destination on the app, it will give you directions on how to get to the nearest public transportation station, when to switch lines, when to get off, and how to walk to your final destination. City mapper is the perfect tool to get you to your destination start to finish and everything in between with ease, it helped us get around every day without confusion!
2. Keep an umbrella with you at ALL TIMES in London.
This one is specific to London, but can be applied to other cities just incase. The weather in London is so unpredictable, but one thing you can count on is it raining at any point in the day for 5 minutes to an hour. Make sure to always have a rain coat, or umbrella with you every day and at all times! Our first day in London we had a bus tour, so I figured bringing my umbrella would be a waste…. until it started raining the minute we got off to take pictures in front of the famous Tower Bridge! And it continued to rain on and off throughout the rest of our bus tour. So, needless to say, unlike any other European city that you can just check the weather and plan accordingly, ALWAYS have your umbrella on you in London, just in case!
3. Be aware of your surroundings and your belongings.
When traveling abroad, you need to be extra careful. You are in a new place, not knowing where you’re going and who/what is around you. Pick-pocketing can be very common in tourist areas. Thankfully we never had any issues with this throughout our trip, so it is nothing to be afraid of as long as you keep your belongings close and stay aware!