Traveling to Europe soon? If you are headed to Scandinavia, Iceland or anywhere abroad D. Scott Foshee of sfoshee.travellerspoint.com shares some of his field tested travel tips and tricks that he has picked up through the years. I am sure this list will help a lot of travelers!
Iceland and Scandinavia Travel Tips
1. Take a washcloth with you. In all of the hostels and hotels I have stayed in overseas, I have rarely seen a single washcloth. Carry 1-2 of your own washcloths in Ziploc bags, along with 2 standard sized bars of soap and travel shampoo.
2. When you arrive at your hotel or hostel, pick up their business card listing the address. If you get lost, you can give the card to a taxi driver who might not speak English. In the absence of a card, a postcard of the hotel will usually do nicely.
3. Make sure you take the proper power adapter and transformer. A transformer is important to regulate fluctuating power supplies.
4. Take an extra memory card for your digital camera. You will inevitably take more pictures than you think you will, and finding the proper memory card overseas can take valuable time. The card you do find will almost always be more expensive than one you find back home.
5. Consider taking a laptop computer with a headset and/or webcam. You can download your digital pictures onto the computer for a backup and to email to friends and relatives. If you take a headset or webcam with microphone you can call home using an internet telephone service like Skype.com for pennies a minute. The webcam is great for teleconferencing the same way very cheaply, and seeing someone’s face from home while on a long trip sometimes makes all the difference in morale. Most areas I have visited have internet access. Also, when Skype is installed on your computer, it automatically formats telephone numbers found on websites so that you can call country to country very easily when making upcoming travel arrangements on the road. This is how I made my hotel reservations in Stockholm and Oslo.
6. Set up your cell phone in advance. Make sure it can be used in the countries you will be visiting. Make sure ahead of time that your cell phone has a sim card that can be removed and replaced. Sometimes you can buy a cheap sim card in the country once you arrive and install it in your phone for less expensive calls. Remember to keep your original sim card to return to your phone when you get home!
7. Notify your credit/ATM card company. Let them know in advance which countries you will be travelling to and when so they won’t flag your account or cut it off due to “suspicious charges.” You don’t want your bank card to cut you off with no money in the middle of a new country!
8. Best Exhange Rates. ATMs can be found pretty much everywhere in Europe, and usually give the best exchange rates.
9. Keep a copy of your passport and credit cards separately from your wallet. Also leave identical copies at home with someone you trust so you can inform authorities quickly of they are stolen.
10. Learn the native language. Most people in Scandinavia speak better English than we do, but still learn some words in the native language out of respect. Start with the words “please” and “thank you.”
11. Guidebooks. Take at least two good guidebooks on your trip with you. I highly recommend Lonely Planet and Rick Steves’ Scandinavia. What one misses, usually the other one picks up on.
12. Guide books can be outdated. Even the newest guidebook can have outdated information by the time it goies to print. I found several mistakes in my guidebooks as I went along. Ask at local tourist information offices, and always get a local map when you arrive, marking your hotel on the map before you set out exploring.
13. Talk to people. People in Europe are usually very open to talking to you, especially if you are polite. Americans seem to have a mindset of “If someone is being nice to me and they are talking to me, they must want something.” Get over this and open up.
14. Be polite to everyone. Especially under adverse circumstances, and especially to hotel and restaurant personnel. I got spots in otherwise fully-booked restaurants and hotels by being polite (and flexible).
15. Be flexible. No matter what happens, roll with the punches. Despite making reservations ahead of time, I still had to play musical chairs with my rooms several places in Europe, but I always ended up with a decent place to stay. Most hotels say they would like for you to check in by 6pm, and they mean it. They will give away your room if you arrive after 6, if you don’t inform them of a late arrival. On the other hand, if you arrive at a hotel or hostel at 6pm or later without a reservation, you will stand a good chance of getting one of these rooms. If a place doesn’t have a room, ask them for comparable places in the area that you might try. In Stockholm I couldn’t find one place for the full length of my stay, but I found one hotel for part of the stay, and another around the block for the remainder.
16. Don’t be afraid of staying in hostels. Many older people especially shy away from hostels, thinking that they are college flophouses. This is not true. In my experience hostels generally are very nice and clean, and the restrooms and showers down the hall are well kept. I also met many more interesting fellow travelers in hostels than in hotels. Hostel guests are generally very nice, open, and willing to chat about their travel experiences.
17. Eat Cheap. It is very easy to eat cheaply on the road. For some reason, hot dogs and hot dog stands are almost universal in Northern Europe, as well as pizza and hamburgers. I usually bought sandwiches and fruit at convenience stores to eat, and these items are even cheaper at real grocery stores. This kind of diet will save you money, but every 2-3 days it is a good idea to treat yourself to a decent meal at a restaurant. You won’t feel as run down over time, and your body will thank you. It is also a good way to get a taste of the local cuisine.
18. Do not expect American breakfasts. On my entire trip, I encountered eggs for breakfast only twice – once in Sweden where I found one soft boiled egg on the breakfast table, and once on the Viking Line Ferry, where the scrambled eggs tasted like modeling clay. Everywhere else had slices of luncheon meat, cheese and bread. I found that it is a good idea to take a gallon Ziploc bag full of power bars or breakfast bars with you for those mornings when you just can’t face the lunchmeat and herring one more time.
19. Don’t be intimidated by big cities. Wherever you go, remember that people just like you live there. There will be neighborhoods with stores, restaurants, groceries, transportation, and things to see and do.
20. Build in rest days. On an extended trip overseas you tend to tire over time as your brain gets information overload. Building in rest days here and there is highly beneficial. You can sleep in and just become “part of the neighborhood.”
22. Don’t be afraid to travel alone. When people found out that I was planning on traveling alone to Europe, many thought I was crazy. Most are conditioned to traveling in groups, getting on and off tour busses on a set schedule. Resist this impulse! Traveling alone you really see much more of a place, and it forces you to talk to people who live there, and not just those in your familiar group. You can change plans on a dime, and go anywhere you want, often following up on tips on interesting travel stops from fellow travelers. On the downside, you do spend a lot of time by yourself and it can tend to get a bit lonely. Some nights in my room I would turn on the TV and turn it to an English language program just to hear someone else speak English! Sometimes there were no English programs on TV (Estonia), and I just had to deal with it. In these situations, I would spend my time in the evenings working on the blog!
23. Pack light. I cannot overemphasize this enough. I knew this rule going into my trip and still ended up mailing home two boxes of crap I didn’t need, totaling 16 pounds! Wash things in the sink with shampoo and hang them up to dry. Laundry machines can be few and far between, so when you find them, take advantage. I packed Tide detergent in single-load sized packets, along with several dryer sheets. Both came in very handy.
24. Public toilets and lockers in museums usually require a coin. In each country the coin is different, so find out what it is and always carry 2-3 with you. Everywhere I went in Northern Europe the public toilets were clean, much better than in the U.S.
25. Trains, buses, and trams in Europe are great and usually run on time. In the U.S. we are not used to good public transit and do not trust it. In Europe public transit is alive and well, and you do not need a car. You meet many more people on public transit anyway, both locals and fellow travelers, just like you.
26. Get out of the big cities and spend some time in the small towns. The difference in the people can be remarkable. You get much more of a feel for how “real people” live in small towns. Small towns usually don’t get as many tourists, so they are more willing to talk to you and help you.
27. Remember to smile. A smile will get you a long way when traveling. Try not to get stressed out – remember that you are in a new country having an adventure!
28. Take a day pack, and carry hand sanitizer. You will use your day pack everyday while exploring. Remember to carry plenty of bottled water with you each day and stay hydrated. Hand sanitizer is useful for washing hands whenever you cannot find a toilet. Also, it might be helpful if you pack deodorant, a toothbrush, and toothpaste in a Ziploc in the bottom of your pack in the event that you ever get stranded.
29. Learn the name for “bathroom” in your host country’s language! This sounds simple, but there is nothing worse when you really have to go than being met with blank stares when you ask for a bathroom in English. In Northern Europe it is “toilet.” In England it is “WC.” In Mexico and Latin America it is “Bano.”
30. Always pack Imodium. Nothing is more miserable than diarrhea when travelling.
31. Watch closely how the locals eat. In Denmark, if you use your hands to eat (even a hamburger or French fries), your fellow diners will look at you with complete disgust and most likely will not eat with you again. In Australia people use a knife in their right hand and a fork in their left, never putting either down to eat. We ate the traditional American way, switching knife and fork for use with the right hand, and the other diners in the restaurants stared at us unabashedly as if we were complete barbarians!
32. Take a jacket. Preferably two, for layering in cold weather. Northern Europe can be chilly, even in summer.
33. Pack replacement insoles for your shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking, and your shoes are very important. My insoles began curling up and giving me blisters in the first week of my trip. They then tore, and I panicked, not knowing where I could possibly get a replacement for my size 14EEEE shoes in Europe! I finally fashioned a field repair out of sheets of moleskin, using it as tape to fasten the torn insoles back together. It worked great, saved the trip, and lasted until I got home.
34. Pack 2-3 packs of moleskin and scissors. Trim the moleskin to a round shape and place on hot spots on your feet to avoid blisters. You will be doing a lot of walking, and blisters will kill you!
35. Pack duct tape. Get the flat rolls if you can find it. Duct tape can repair anything, and, on an extended trip, you can count on at least one thing breaking. During my trip the handle on my rolling duffle broke, and it was duct tape to the rescue.
36. Take only what you can carry. This is a tip that Sofie from Landskrona gave me, and she was right. Always be able to carry all of your luggage yourself. If you can’t, get rid of some of the stuff until you can carry it. And, sooner or later, you will have to carry it all, possibly up multiple flights of steps. My main two pieces of luggage were a Rick Steves backpack and a rolling duffle with sectioned compartments. Both worked great. Here is the link to the backpack. (I get nothing for the endorsement, by the way!)
37. Take your camera everywhere you go. No matter what. Some of my best shots came when I was least expecting them.
38. Beware of pickpockets. Take and use a money belt or a neck pouch everywhere you go. Most rooms in Europe do not have safes, so take your passport and extra cash with you every day. I always carried my wallet in my front pocket, and wore my neck pouch. Here is a link to the neck pouch I wore on the trip – it did a great job.
39. When lost or in trouble, ASK! Most people are very willing to help you if you are polite and ask nicely. Remember to smile!
40. Cell phones – just say no! Why is your cell phone the only one to be heard ringing in a public place in Europe? Why are you the only person to be seen speaking on a cell phone in public? Why is everyone glaring at you while you chatter away loudly on your cell phones home in Europe? BECAUSE YOU ARE AN AMERICAN!! Americans on cell phones in Europe invariably stand out as being loud, rude, and obnoxious. What is even worse is that most Americans are so used to this practice that they don’t even notice or realize what they are doing! Most Europeans are very discreet with their cell phones, setting them to vibrate and removing themselves from a public place to return the call. Remember, to fit in, do as the locals do!
Have a tip to add to the list? Have a full list of ideas? Leave a comment below.