Below are some tips provided by members of the US Military community who are experienced European travelers:
Before you go:
Make sure you have a valid travel passport and ID. Some hotels and most hostels will ask for your passport number upon check-in.
Make two copies of your important documents, such as: passports, credit card numbers and licenses. Keep one copy at home and pack the other. If any documents are lost or stolen, it will be much easier to replace if you have a copy.
Don’t expect everyone to speak English. However, many European are required to take English in school. You’ll find their “poor English” is good enough to communicate with you.
Learn a few phrases of the host country language. Bare minimum: yes, no, please, thank you, hello , goodbye, and “Do you speak English?” in the host country language.
Know if there is a national holiday; most stores, attractions and even restaurants might shut down.
If you have flexibility, last minute deals and bargains can be found online or at a travel agency. Look at airports where travel agencies post fliers detailing last minute trips and all inclusive packages.
The German Rail, Deutsche Bahn, has great savings on train travel if you book at least 4-6 weeks ahead. Purchasing train tickets a few weeks in advance can save you up to 50%. Ask about the “Spar-Preis”. You must book a certain train and can only use that train.
It is usually cheaper to eat breakfast out instead of at the hotel, if breakfast isn’t already included in the cost.
Take advantage of special offers by signing up for travel and airline newsletters. You’ll be the first to know, for example, when the rates drop on Ryan air or Lufthansa.
Check out travel books, language CD’s, maps, DVD’s and videos for free at your local library. For long car rides you can find books on tape.
Be aware that alot of the European highways outside Germany are toll roads.
Load your iPod with free Podcasts about the city you are visiting. Instead of paying for the audio guide tour, save money by taking your own recording and headphones.
Attempt to blend in with the locals and environment.
Try to dress a little more formally for churches and shrines. Cover your shoulders and skip the shorts, it’s a sign of respect.
In Germany, an invitation at 3 or 4pm on Sunday means coffee and cake. If you are invited, take a small gift like flowers or a bottle of wine. If someone comes to your house, have a cake and coffee ready.
In Germany, punctuality is extremely important. If you are going to arrive more then 5 minutes past the appointed time, let your host know.
In Germany, you don’t have to wait for others to start eating. People enjoy their food while it is hot. However, when alcohol is served do not drink before everyone has received a drink. Very often a toast is offered before the first drink.
Even if you travel with a GPS, bring a good road map for back-up. Also know how to reset your GPS in case it fails to turn on.
Unlike the US, roads in Germany do not use directional indicators (north, south, east, west) on road signs. Instead, key cities are listed. You have to know whether Cologne is north or south of Frankfurt, or else you might go in the wrong direction when you come to an intersection. Know where you are going so you don’t cause an accident trying to cross three lanes in order to get off at an exit.
Currency conversion: Do not change money at the airport currency exchange booth. You will get a better rate of exchange at local exchange offices. Better yet use your credit card for the best exchange rate.
German keyboards: if you stop in an Internet cafe, you will notice that the keyboard has a slightly different layout. Most notably, Y and Z have switched positions , so watch what you type. The “@” sign is usually different (press alt and the key with the @ symbol). Some PC’s have an icon at the bottom right of the screen where you can change the language of the computer, which changes the functional keyboard language. When in doubt, or before frustration sets in, ask someone for help.
Get used to carrying cash. Some restaurants, stores and even hotels don’t accept credit cards.
You will need change to gain access to many public toilets. Unlike in the US, most public toilets are clean. In Germany, the money you pay to use the toilet at a rest stop can be used towards a purchase, redeem at the register.
Taking a cruise along the Mosel or Rhine Rivers can be a great way of getting a guided scenic tour of the country.
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