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Five things you may hate about European travel

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2012

Although European travel is full of delights, there are at least five aspects you may find you don't like. But if you're prepared for them, you'll be in a better position to cope even if you can't change them. Not every thing I list is true for every country, but these are fairly common sources of discomfort I've found in my years of guiding trips in Europe.

  1. Dinners are late. And large. This is particularly true in Spain but also many other countries (The UK and Bulgaria being two exceptions). Restaurants simply don't open earlier. So your choices on how to deal with it are either to eat at cafes or to buy food from grocery stores. Or simply plan to eat less. Instead of finishing every course, eat only half or two thirds. Or order soup and salad, something lighter that won't leave you going to bed wishing you weren't so full.

  2. Hotel rooms are small and the bathrooms look like they've been added as an afterthought. That's because they probably have been added as an afterthought. Having bathrooms in every bedroom (called "en suite") is more of an American thing than a European thing. If this is something that is important to you, then you want to either stay at hotels that cater specifically to Americans or at newer hotels. We always look for hotels where Europeans stay because they seem more authentic, but this is not to everyone's taste.

  3. You will arrive jetlagged and be unable to check in. Like hotels in the U.S., they have a check-in time that is based on people checking out and getting the rooms cleaned. It never hurts to ask if you can check-in; if they can accomodate you, they will - but don't count on it. Plan how you're going to spend the day, store your luggage at the hotel, and go sightseeing. A couple of other startegies- I once saw someone get a room after they stretched out on the sofa in the lobby and went to sleep. If you really absolutely have to have a room when you arrive, reserve one the day before and make sure they know you won't be there until the next morning.

  4. Many people don't speak English, especially in the smaller towns. You can almost always find people in the larger cities but people in small towns, even ones that often have tourists, may not. Some strategies: first, look for a young person. They are much more likely to be fluent. The second is to have fun pantomiming. I stilll remember going into a pharmacy with someone on the trip and trying to act out needing hemorrhoid cream. Fortunately the person I was with saw what she needed on the shelf and pointed at it, because I was definitely not having much luck (but for sure I was having fun!).

  5. They don't put pots of coffee on the table. In some countries they don't even make real coffee, or at least they only make it in small cups of strong brew and it isn't a morning thing. In Italy they make your cup to order, which means it is hot and delicious - but it is also often difficult to get more than one cup. If you need more, bring some instant coffee with you. And do try to learn to like Nescafe.

Personally, I find all these things are small potatoes compared to how much fun, enriching, and enlivening European travel is. But the more you can be prepared for what you find to be bumps on the road, the easier it will be to focus on all the things you enjoy. Ciao!

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