Tour directors have one universal rule of thumb: Assume nothing will be exactly as you expect. When heading into an unknown situation like travel, we take comfort in studying the rules up front so we feel prepared. But even guide books only go so far. What other universal truths should you master before your next European adventure?
1. Carry tissues and band-aids.
Regardless of on-call attendants and entry fees, bathrooms are never guaranteed to be stocked with toilet paper. Let your inner nonna shine and stuff a tissue packet (or three) in your bag while sightseeing. And, when your new walking shoes aren’t quite as broken in as you originally thought, band-aids (or “plasters,” depending on where you are traveling) for blisters can make touring on foot a whole lot easier.
2. ATM fees are always lower than exchange fees.
Instead of carrying wads of cash to exchange overseas, consider taking just a small amount of your destination’s currency to get you from the airport to your hotel, and then utilizing an ATM machine. Known in Europe as Bancomats, the only fees you will most likely incur are bank fees. Speak to your own bank representative before leaving home, alert them that you will be withdrawing money overseas, and find out your maximum daily withdrawal limit. This is important: If your limit is 500USD, you will have an allowance of roughly 350EUR, depending on the current exchange rate. If that isn’t enough, consider increasing your daily limit before your departure.
3. Find out the emergency number in the country you are staying in.
A good tour director should give you plenty of time to explore solo. That freedom is a blessing, but also comes with a small amount of risk. If you find yourself in an emergency, it is your responsibility to know the number to call. 112 is the ‘911’ of most European countries, and any phone that is roaming should be able to connect. If not, ask passerby. Human compassion is international.
4. Learn how to say please, thank you, and good day. Bonus points for “Do you speak English?”
Many say that Hungarian is the hardest language to learn. Hungarians know this and don’t expect a word of their language to escape your lips. However, when one does, they are delighted! Wherever you may go, take a few minutes to memorize key words in the local language, even if it feels impossible. Not only does your effort ensure a better relationship with the people you meet, it is a fun way to immerse yourself in the culture and build confidence.
5. Carry your travel insurance information.
Many times, as a tour director, I have had an emergency with a guest who hasn’t the slightest idea whether they purchased travel insurance. Your coverage details provide vital information, and accessibility to saves crucial minutes of phone time.
6. Carry a copy of your passport.
Not the original, a copy. Pickpockets are everywhere, don’t risk losing the original when you’re not in transit.
7. If you absolutely need a washcloth, bring one.
Face cloths are never a guarantee, even in a quality hotel.
8. Check the weather forecast, then remember to be prepared for everything.
The Greek Islands are not perpetually warm, as much as we want to believe they are!
9. Tipping is appropriate in the tourism industry, everywhere.
When in doubt, tip. When not in doubt, also tip. The tourism and hospitality industry survives through the financial graciousness of guests. A gratuity will rarely be taken as an insult. Special attention should be paid to guides, drivers, musicians, and housekeepers. Ask your tour director if you aren’t sure about group dinners—most tour companies cover restaurant tipping for included meals.
10. If something has a price tag, it is not up for bargain.
This clue is especially important when you are perusing the local markets. If it’s marked, the price is non-negotiable. If not, sharpen your haggling skills. Which brings me to …
11. Never buy a souvenir in the first market kiosk you see.
Make your way to the back, where the items are nearly always cheaper. Why not save money when you can, right?
12. If you don’t want bread at a restaurant, send it back to avoid hiddden charges.
You are more likely to encounter bread charges in Mediterranean countries. The same practice goes for appetizers and digestives. A plate of salami you didn’t ask for? A round of limoncello? Odds are, even if you didn’t ask for it, you will find it on the bill.
13. Teamwork is key!
Your tour director is not only your guide, but also your event planner, reservationist, scheduler, accountant, insurance agent, concierge, historian, and geography expert. You are on vacation, but your guide is not. Help keep the tour and logistics running smoothly by being prompt, filling out your required paperwork, and having your emergency and insurance paperwork handy if the need arises.
Above all, traveling is fun! Resolve your administrative tasks before you leave home so the moment you step off that plane and begin your adventure, your only job is to take in the sights and enjoy yourself. Expect some snags and embrace them. What you discover during unexpected turns often makes the journey more memorable!