Travel Tips for Americans Traveling to Europe – What to Know When Traveling to Europe
Europe is an amazing continent to visit – and I know that my American readers love traveling to Europe. Whether you guys read my Italy, Switzerland, France, or Germany posts – anything related to Europe seems to be extremely popular with readers in the US.
And that makes sense. Europe is full of charming little towns, bustling cities, gorgeous lakes, mountains, castles, and so much history. Europe is the perfect place for Americans to visit.
As a German, things in Europe seem very natural to me – of course, I sometimes have to google certain travel tips for specific countries, but overall, after traveling quite a bit in Europe, I have gotten a fair knowledge about the different countries on the continent.
But for Americans, the things that seem second nature to Europeans may seem odd, surprising, or even be the complete opposite from what you are used to.
While not all the rules apply for all countries – and not all European countries belong to the European Union – here are my top travel tips for Americans traveling to Europe. This list will help you navigate Europe like a pro and have a great time doing it.
First of all do US Americans (what is important to mention here, is that the passport matters not the residency) need a visa for Europe?
At the moment, February 2019, US-Americans do NOT need a visa for most countries and can travel within Europe for 90 without any problems. You can travel around the Schengen-Area very hassle-free.
This will change from 2021 and you will need to apply for a visa – but for your Europe trip 2019 and 2020 you can enjoy most places without any complications.
Find out what to know and what to do as an American going to Europe…
First of all, don’t try to do it all in one go. Europe is about the same size as the United States, but the countries are compactly situated like America’s states on the east coast. There is a lot to see and do, and trying to do too much in a short amount of time will mean missing some of the beauty you came for. I suggest breaking your trip up into sections of Europe, or countries. Also, consider flying into one country and flying home from another so that you don’t have to circle back, and therefore, will see more.
Unlike in America, the drinking age can vary from country to country. For example, in Spain, the legal drinking age is 16. Just something to be aware of, especially if you are traveling with teenagers.
Smoking is more common in Europe than many Americans realize. Usage varies with the country, but increases the farther east you travel. If you have allergies or are sensitive to smoke, just be conscious of the fact that you will encounter this more than you would in many metropolitan US cities (though maybe something similar to rural US areas).
Another useful tip for Americans going to Europe is – bring an adapter. The voltage used in Europe is different, so an adapter is needed to plug in your electrical devices (there are different ones for different countries, so make sure you check before you leave).
Americans are used to businesses being open 7 days a week, if not 24 hours a day. But that is not necessarily the case in Europe. In some countries, like Germany, stores are not open on Sundays at all. So, be aware of the local hours if you plan to shop on the weekend. Holidays are also something to consider.
Each country in Europe is unique, with its own culture and language. Even within the EU, there are many differences. Some may surprise you, like the German-speaking areas in Northern Italy.
Do a little research about the places you are going to and you’ll be in the know about these little differences that make Europe so special.
In some countries, it is easier to get by on English than in others. You may have no problem in Stockholm if your Swedish is rudimentary, but in France, they do not like speaking English. Try to master a few polite phrases in the local dialect to make your visit smoother. Most locals will appreciate your effort. Having Google translate handy doesn’t hurt either.
The Euro is not used in all countries in Europe (not even in all countries of the European Union), so you may need to exchange currency when crossing borders. Don’t worry, there are plenty of places to do this, but you will be charged a small fee for the convenience.
Americans sometimes think of Europe as being more liberal, and while it may be true in some cases, not in the case of marijuana. Except in special coffee shops in Amsterdam and certain locations in Copenhagen, smoking pot is illegal. Be aware of the local laws if you plan to consume or smoke cannabis (or any drug) while traveling through Europe.
Tipping is a little different in Europe. They tend more to 10% than the 15-20% Americans leave, and service is sometimes automatically added to the bill, so no extra tip is needed in those cases. There are some countries where you don’t need to tip, though, like Switzerland but in general: if you are happy with the service – tip.
Bring comfortable walking shoes. The American culture is geared more toward driving and you are used to paved sidewalks in most areas. But you’ll do a lot more walking in Europe, sometimes on cobblestone streets. Remember to pack a comfortable pair of sneakers for your sightseeing.
Fraud alerts can be a real downer when you are on vacation. Make sure you let your credit card company know you’re traveling so that your card isn’t flagged when it’s used in Europe. While not everyone accepts credit card, it’s good to have just in case. Staying on a budget as an American exploring Europe is no easy task.
Some hotels, especially older ones (for instance, in Paris), don’t have elevators, so pack light enough that you can carry your luggage where you need to go. This also helps when using public transportation and trains. Besides, you are probably going to buy things along the way – plan ahead.
Check with your cell phone carrier about whether international usage is part of your plan to avoid unnecessarily high charges. WiFi is available in hotels (usually for free), and often in the city centers, in the cafes and restaurants (but not always).
Americans are known as being loud, so try to match your enthusiasm and volume to the locals around you (Italians are loud, too, so it depends on where you are).
But in general, just be aware when you’re out having lunch at a cafe or exploring a castle. Or out having drinks – Amsterdam has begun fining for drunkenness and excessive noise due to the number of tourists that come to enjoy the Dutch capital.
In some places, credit cards are not accepted – so always have some cash on you, just in case.
See if your bank offers good rates on international ATM withdrawals so that you can pull local currency wherever you are in Europe, without having to travel with a ton of cash or traveler’s checks (American Express is not accepted everywhere, but Visa and Mastercard are more common).
Don’t change money at the hotel or at the airport/train station as the rates are not good for you.
The UK is still part of the EU (but only until March 29, 2019), so you can travel there as easily as from Germany to France until that date.
When you are traveling between EU and non-EU countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, there may be border control, so be careful when buying a lot of stuff and then traveling between them.
Hotels used to ask to hold your passport, but this is actually not allowed in most countries.. So, if you are asked to give it up, insist on them just making a copy and keep your passport with you.
While free refills on soft drinks are pretty common all over the US, when you order in Europe, soda usually comes in a bottle.
Water, too, unless you specify tap water (which is not provided for free in many countries – you have to pay in restaurants).
However, in many places tap water is safe to drink (not everywhere though). Sometimes, like in Austria, Northern Italy or Switzerland, you even have water fountains providing you with fresh drinking water when you are outside. So, take a reusable water bottle and refill for free.
Sparkling water is more popular in certain countries, like Germany. Often, you have to pay a small deposit if you buy water or soft drinks in bottles. And ice is not given unless asked for.
Bring a reusable cloth bag for shopping. Plastic bags often cost money in Europe, and even if it is just a few cents, it will help the environment.
President Trump brings various reactions in more than just America (mostly negative ones). Prepare for the possibility that you might be asked about the president and how you should respond — though probably not with a full-on political debate.
Many public bathrooms require you to pay in certain countries, like Germany. So, always have some coins with you (mostly it is about 0,50-0,70€ but it really depends on the country – but don’t be surprised.
Also, air conditioning isn’t as common as in America, especially in Northern Europe, so this is something to be aware of if you are visiting in the summer.
Avoid traveling during the peak season, if possible, as many European tourist hotspots are struggling to accommodate the crowds, like Venice. If you want to avoid the worst of it, try visiting from in September or October and then from March to May for your summer vacations and for your winter vacations from January to February/March. Find out how Switzerland looks in winter by clicking here.
Another difference between Europe and America is that restaurant portions are smaller. This can be a bit of a shock if you’re coming from the US and its ubiquitous super-sized meals. To-go boxes aren’t really used either, but you can always ask for your food to be packed if you have some left over.
Do as the Romans do. When you’re in Europe, try to mesh with the local culture as much as you can. You’ll learn more, have more fun, and have a better experience than just playing the American tourist.
As you can see, there are a lot of tips for Americans traveling to Europe that will smooth your way (and this isn’t even all of them!). But these important things to remember will make your European vacation tons more fun and much more memorable experience. Just follow these do’s and don’ts in Europe and have a great time!