Today, I'd like to share with you a little more about planning your trip, and some of the things you might like to know when you get there.
Remember, we only traveled in Iceland, Ireland, England, and France. But I still feel like I have some good tips I can give you for these places—and they’re all things you should really know before you leave.
We took taxis in every country but Ireland, let’s just preface by saying that. Taxis are a very convenient way to move around, just because they’re literally everywhere. Trouble is, even Google doesn’t know how much it’s going to cost you to take a ride in a taxi, and there’s usually a cheaper way to move around (especially from the airport/train station to wherever you're staying).
If you’re in Iceland, I recommend avoiding taxis as much as possible. They’re ridiculously expensive. Although the drivers are very nice and friendly, the price isn’t always worth it. In London, however, the taxis are very nice. We ended up taking two while we were there, both of which were very nice, drivers were friendly, and the prices weren’t bad (it cost about ten pounds to get from Paddington Station to St Pancras International Train Station, if that gives you an idea). In Paris, however, there’s something you need to know. If you’re taking a taxi to or from a train station or airport, it’s a set fee. And it’s a bit pricy, depending on where you’re going. It’s approximately fifty euros, to or from a train station or airport, to anywhere in the city. So if you’re not staying far from the station, it might be better to find an alternate route or walk the distance.
Obviously, we only used this system in London and Paris, as Ireland and Iceland don’t have them.
In London, the system is incredibly simple. What we did was purchase an Oyster Travel Card before we left, so we’d be able to use public transport in London without too much confusion. All you have to do is scan it when you go in and scan it when you go out. Simple. If you run out of money on the card, you can fill it at any station or register it online to add more money. Plus, if you’re staying near a larger underground station, you’ll be better able to move around the city at your leisure. We found their system very easy to understand, especially if you stick to the circle line as much as possible. It literally just goes around in a circle, and hits a lot of the fun tourist stops along the way. (Note: you'll have to have one Oyster Card per person)
Paris, however, was a challenge for us. The trains aren’t as nice, they don’t have any system as sophisticated as that in London, and everything is in French, so if you don’t know the language you might have some trouble. It took us a couple days to get used to their system, but it was workable and useful, as things are far more spread out in Paris than they are in London. It's important to note that if you can't figure out what you're doing, most people are nice enough to help you out, and most of the people working in the underground stations do speak some English.
Especially in Paris, there are signs all over the place (in tourist areas especially) warning about pickpocketers. It’s something that you’ll definitely want to be aware of, especially if you’re not generally all that cautious with your personal belongings. Mum and I ended up purchasing purses from Travelon before we left, where all the zippers lock closed to deter pickpocketing and the straps are slash proof. It’s also a good idea, guys, not to keep your wallet in your back pocket. My father highly recommends keeping it in your sock, where no one can get a hold of it without your knowing. Ladies, Travelon has a lot of great purse options. You’ll also want to remember to keep a hold on your purse and/or hang it across your body so no one can nab it from you. We didn’t have any problems with it whatsoever, and the bags are very nice, and don’t look shabby at all.
Difference between waiters in the US and abroad
Might not seem like a big deal, but this is definitely something you should know before going to Europe. Wait-staff are not the same as they are in the States. Here, you have one waiter who sees to your table, whom you generally tip when you pay your bill. There, you have a whole staff of people helping you, and the tip is included in the bill. If you’re paying via credit card, they won’t take your card from the table. Instead, they’ll bring a device to your table so you pay tableside and your card never leaves your sight. Very nice! But getting a hold of that bill… that’s the interesting part. Once you have your food and are happily eating, we noticed that the staff tend to ignore you. When you do get a hold of someone and ask for your bill, don’t be surprised if they forget. You may have to ask a few times before you get it. But everyone is very polite, and they simply want you to stay and hang out… and maybe order a few more things that they can add to the bill. If you’re in a hurry, it might not be a bad idea to let the wait-staff know when you get there, to help you get out the door a little quicker.
Arranged tour vs do it yourself
A lot of people were surprised to hear that Mum and I designed our own trip. We didn’t purchase a travel package that would take us all of the places we needed to go and tell us where to stay and what to do. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with those trips, but depending on your travel style, it might not be what you want to do. There are pros and cons both ways.
Arranged trips can be much easier, because you don’t have as much to think about when planning. A lot of the trips you get on Groupon and other such sites include a hotel stay, which means you won’t have to do so much research to figure out where to stay, and some even include tickets to some of the attractions wherever you’re going. So, it can be a really nice way to see the world.
For us, however, arranging our own trip was the way to go. If you like to have more flexibility in what you’re doing, when you’ll be going, and where you’ll be staying, I highly recommend putting the trip together yourself. It takes time to do it (we were planning this trip for a few years, but you probably don’t need more than eight months to do it, tops). It can also be slightly more expensive, but you get to decide how long you'll be in each location instead of a travel agency deciding for you. For me and Mum, that meant we could spend almost a week in London and less time in the other cities where we didn't have as much we wanted to do. This way, we got to decide what dates we would be gone, we were in control of how long we stayed in each location, and we got to decide exactly where we were staying in relation to other things in each city. We wanted to see what it was like to live in each city, not just stay there. That meant avoiding hotels as much as possible, and using Airbnb. We also planned out only about a third of the things we really wanted to do, and got tickets ahead of time. Everything we did outside that, was what we’d decided on doing that day. No tours, no tour guides, no one to dictate what we were going to do on any given day. And it was a blast.
I hope these tips help you in planning and preparing for your own Europe trip!
Next time, things get silly. Stay tuned.
Also, pics from London coming as soon as I have time to sort through them! I have several... thousand.