Before we travel, I always make it a point to research the places we are planning on visiting for things like weather, customs, special laws, walk-ability, transit and transportation arrangements etc. Often times I find it very useful when I read tips and suggestions from other travelers and their experiences. SO, I thought I would put together a list of tips and suggestions from our own experience while we traveled in Europe.
1. TRAVEL LIGHT.
There is no need to carry a million items. Remember, people live there and there are many places to buy the essentials like toiletries and other products should you need them. So packing travel size items is totally the way to go. Your luggage will be less heavy and your back will thank you.
2. TAKE AN UMBRELLA/RAINCOAT
I guess this one depends on where and when you travel, but generally, I always take a small travel umbrella and a light raincoat. Many times in the past I've failed to take these items and the result? I get miserably soaked by the pouring rain. Especially if you are out and about sightseeing. A travel umbrella is so small, you can place it in a side pocket of your backpack with no problem and it is TSA approved. As far a a raincoat,I opt for a light raincoat (Columbia Sportswear worked perfectly). Make sure it is waterproof and not just water resistant (believe me...great difference).
3. PORTABLE CELL PHONE CHARGER
I use my cellphone to take all my pictures while traveling. I mean, the convenience of just having a small device which you can also use as a camera/phone/GPS and mini computer is just a great perk of living in the twenty first century...as such, I also have to deal with terrifying "low battery" pop up message that is inevitable when traveling. A small, portable cell phone charger is a life saver. You can check out all our pictures now and thank the creators of such neat device later.
4. PORTABLE SELFIE STICK FOR PICTURES
When we exerted ourselves up 37 stories just to reach the top of the Saint Peter's Basilica or the Notre-Dame top level to see the mystic gargoyles, it was worth it. But we also realized there's an incredible potential for amazing pictures that cannot be achieved with just stretching your hand. A selfie stick was the solution. A picture perfect solution.
5. TAKE A SCARF
Yes, It is HOT in many places in Europe in the summer days. This was especially true when we visited Rome. You will be tempted to wear just a tank top and shorts, or a sleeveless maxi-dress. It's the perfect attire for the warmth of this spectacular place...BUT be aware that MOST (if not all) churches, and sacred places in Rome - including the Vatican- will NOT let you in if you don't cover your shoulders (and your knees). A scarf is the perfect alternative to wrap around your neck and shoulders. and it also provides a very stylish way to accessorize your outfit. Locals in both, France and Italy wear scarves all the time, even in the summer months - and especially at night.
6. GIRLS, MAXI OR SUMMER DRESSES ARE A MUST
A perfect outfit when backpacking is one that you can dress up or dress down with ease. A maxi dress or a cute summer dress provides the perfect combination of style and comfort. Dress it up with a scarf or custom jewelry, or just wear it as it comes during the day. You can't go wrong with a dress.
7. TENNIS SHOES ARE TOTALLY OK
One of the things I was most worried about was the fact that I wanted to pick the right pair of shoes for Paris and Rome. I didn't want to look like an obvious tourist. I googled a million times and read a million blogs to investigate what kind of shoes other people were taking on their trips. All suggested comfortable walking shoes, and flats for women. Many stated to stay away from white tennis shoes. Let me tell you what I saw. An unbearable amount of both men and women wearing tennis shoes (as in Nike and Adidas). I also saw a lot of locals wearing white tennis shoes (usually Converse or Keds). So I wish I would've known this before picking my shoes. I opted for taking a pair of gray Bobs (by Sketchers) with the memory foam inserts. They were very comfortable walking shoes and they looked just fine with my outfits. Just remember, whatever shoe you pick, make sure they are made for walking (we walked an average of 10 miles per day), and make sure you break them in in advance!
8. WATERPROOF YOUR SHOES
I learned this one the hard way. Remember when I said we've gotten soaked by pouring rain in the past? Well, this includes our shoes. Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than walking around in wet soggy shoes all day. So this time, I knew better. I got a water-proof spray (make sure it works on fabric) and waterproofed my shoes all the way around. The result was as expected, and my feet did not get wet at all when it rained -Even when I accidentally stepped in a big puddle!.
9. PARIS PASS/TRAIN PASS
Is it worth the money? Well, the answer depends on your needs. There are many alternatives on packages that you can get while in Paris. We definitely recommend to get the travel card even if you don't end up getting the whole Paris pass deal. Let me explain. The Paris Pass is a package deal that you can purchase online and pick up when you arrive at one of the many locations they offer. It includes a museum pass, an attraction pass, and a travel card. You can get it for two, three, four, or six days, depending on your needs. If you purchase the whole pass, you have access to over 60+ museums and attractions and unlimited metro, RER, and bus travel, a bus tour, fast track access to many museums, and a guide book. So here's how you decide. Make a list of the museums and attractions that you want to visit for sure, and if it's more economical to just pay for them individually (you can find the prices online) and if you are not interested in taking the bus tour either, then just get the travel card and a museum pass, or just a travel card and pay for the museum entries individually. We got the pass for convenience and peace of mind. For us it was worth it since we visited many places.
10. USE YOUR MANNERS
I'm embarrassed to admit that many Americans are perceived as rude in Europe. And unfortunately it is true. I observed how many of us forget to use our manners when talking to strangers in Europe. I'm going to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and state that it could be (perhaps) the language barrier. Many people (including myself) get nervous and forget the few foreign words they know when someone speaks to them in another language. But either way, it's not an excuse. Don't forget to use your hellos and thank yous in the respective language. You will see a huge difference in the way locals respond to you.
11. DON'T FALL FOR STREET SCAMS
There are MANY scammers scampering the streets for their next victim. From innocent looking kids trying to convince you to sign a petition - while his/her friend steals your cellphone or wallet, from very young women posing as old and disabled gypsy ladies begging for money - you know they are not real when they won't show you their face. Many pickpockets and fake street performers that only want to distract you so you are an easier target. Also, there are many street sellers that will literally hand you an item and once you have it in your hand they will demand payment. Best thing to do; be vigilant of your surroundings and your belongings and you will be fine.
12. TRY EVERYTHING (FOOD/DRINK)
The most beautiful views in Europe will be from the top of a mountain or building. We climbed Norte-Dame, Sacre-Coeur, and Saint Peter's Basilica (at 37 stories high) by foot. Hundreds of steps later, you will be awed by the incredible views you will find once you face your fear of heights and tight spaces. Especially in Paris, prepare to climb many, many steps all around the city.
14. CARRY A MAP
If you don't have constant internet access it's impossible to rely on your phone's GPS when you get lost in the city. Having a good map with clear street names can potentially save you your sanity when the time comes. This is a good advice also for a metro or RER maps. Plan your route in advance so you don't waste precious vacation time trying to figure out where to go and how to get there with no map.
15. SUMMER CAN GET HOT
I said it before, but I'll say it again. Summer can get hot, especially in Italy. If you are planning on visiting in June-August, plan accordingly and pack summer clothes. Shorts, dresses, sunglasses, and lots and lots of sun screen when you go out sightseeing.
16. AMERICAN EXPRESS- NOT ACCEPTED EVERYWHERE
We wanted to minimize the amount of cash we carried, in case of pickpockets. Didn't want to risk getting robbed of all our money. We thought it was a good idea to pay with a credit card whenever possible. For the most part this worked great. BUT be advised, only Visa and Master Card are accepted in most places. Coco had an American Express card that was barely used because apparently Paris and Rome (even the very touristic places) do not accept American Express.
17. THE WI-FI SCAM
One thing I would like to point out is the fact that almost every cafe, restaurant, and shop in Paris advertises free Wi-Fi for their patrons. LIES. Now, this is only a theory based on observation, but it seems to me that advertising free Wi-Fi is a good tactic to get people to have a seat and order an espresso while they figure out their maps or they make a call using internet access (namely, us). But 8 out of 10 places do not really have this free Wi-Fi access. You have to request a password to access their network, and (if they provide it to you) the connections don't work. Our group was pretty technologically savvy and none of us could connect to most networks. When you ask the waitress for a correct password, they will say it is the password it was already provided and that it should work. Verdict: false advertisement just to get tourists to sit down while hunting for that precious Wi-Fi.
We all have different experiences every time we travel. It's our mission to share these with fellow travelers for informative purposes. We would also love to hear from you and your experiences! Comment below and tell us about your trip and backpacking experiences!