Practical tips for traveling in Europe
March 25, 2015 10:05 PM   Subscribe

We will be going on honeymoon to a few major cities in Western Europe. I would love to hear your best practical advice for traveling in that region of the world.

Right now, our two biggest concerns are money and communication.

I have a smartphone with AT&T that can be unlocked and have a SIM card put in, but I'm considering just using Line or WhatsApp. Has anyone used either of these apps in Europe with success? My fiance has Verizon. I would like both of us to be able to have access to our phones in case we get separated.

Also, my bank charges a 3% foreign transaction fee for withdrawing money from ATMs there. Are traveler's checks the best way to go in order to avoid fees?

Lastly, our travel agent has set up some guided tours for us. A few are walking and a few are driving tours. We're pondering the safety of driving tours, as we'll be strangers in a strange land. I'm wondering if anyone has any opinions on whether we're just being paranoid or if we should rethink the wisdom of getting into a stranger's car and driving off somewhere.

And really lastly, all other tips welcomed, like if you have a really good anti-theft bag recommendation or something. We're going to each be wearing an under-the-shirt wallet with all the super important stuff like our passports and the majority of the money. Then we're thinking of carrying one small messenger bag for other miscellaneous stuff. And... is travel insurance worth it? Our agent recommended TravelGuard. Anyone have experience with them?
posted by madonna of the unloved to Travel & Transportation (40 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I just returned from the better part of a month split between the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. When I arrived in the Netherlands I bought a prepaid SIM for my smartphone and found it very, very helpful to have data service available -- I think I only made a single phone call but having wireless data was wonderful for on-the-go maps and directions, consulting museum hours, and many other uses.

Unfortunately the most affordable prepaid services are usually country-specific; if you're going to be traveling through several countries of western Europe you may need to either buy a SIM in each country or choose your carrier carefully and pay a significant premium.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:21 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Always get travel insurance. Always.

And tell us where you're going. I wouldn't get in a car in Greece (drive like lunatics) but would have no hesitation in France. In some capitals I'd be more wary of pick pockets but in others, I'd feel as safe and carefree as I do at home. Don't keep valuables in your messenger. My friend lost her camera (and therefore all her photos) when someone slashed her bag on a crowded train.

I just bought money through Travelex online. It was the best rate & you can either pick up cash or a card to use in ATMs. People seem to hate them if they're changing at their kiosks (eg at the airport) but love them when using their online service.

Happy travels.
posted by stellathon at 10:29 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a smartphone with AT&T that can be unlocked and have a SIM card put in, but I'm considering just using Line or WhatsApp. Has anyone used either of these apps in Europe with success? My fiance has Verizon. I would like both of us to be able to have access to our phones in case we get separated.

Depends on whether you want to have access to the web on your smartphone. I find free WiFi isn't always as easy to come by in Europe. WhatsApp or Line may be fine if you only want to have your phones to get in touch if you are separated. But if you want to use Google Maps, Yelp, AirBnb, etc, then getting a cheap prepaid SIM card when you arrive in Europe might be your best bet. (They're very affordable there).

Also, my bank charges a 3% foreign transaction fee for withdrawing money from ATMs there. Are traveler's checks the best way to go in order to avoid fees?

Is it possible to get a bank account with no foreign transaction fee prior to your trip? Some banks will only charge a flat fee (e.g. $5) for each withdrawal. If you can't get around this, try and use your Visa as much as possible.

Lastly, our travel agent has set up some guided tours for us. A few are walking and a few are driving tours. We're pondering the safety of driving tours, as we'll be strangers in a strange land. I'm wondering if anyone has any opinions on whether we're just being paranoid or if we should rethink the wisdom of getting into a stranger's car and driving off somewhere.

You're almost certainly just being paranoid, unless you have reasons to distrust your travel agent. Presumably he or she knows the reputation of the tours being booked. The only thing you may want to watch out for, in at least some countries, is being taken for a bit of a ride to commission based shops, etc. I doubt this is much of a problem in most of Western Europe.

And... is travel insurance worth it? Our agent recommended TravelGuard. Anyone have experience with them?

Depends on your current health insurance plan, if you have one. Also check to see if your credit card provides coverage.
posted by ageispolis at 10:31 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

As for phones, agree with Nerd of the North that data is really useful and yes, we never call anyone. We've never bought local sims. We found that most apps can be used offline and your GPS will kick in for maps. Depending on where you're going, if there's plenty of wifi spots you can message each other and check museum times etc easily enough. Maybe someone else can chime in about WeChat or something that let's you call with wifi?
posted by stellathon at 10:34 PM on March 25, 2015

Also, my bank charges a 3% foreign transaction fee for withdrawing money from ATMs there.

Find a bank that doesn't, even if it's just for the duration of the trip, and transfer the money you'll need into it.

There's very limited benefit to travellers' cheques these days, particularly in western Europe. It is honestly going to be less hassle to open a bank account that charges a flat fee for foreign withdrawals -- look for ones that have partnerships with European banks and use those banks' ATMs -- than faff around with travellers cheques and tourist exchange rates.

Get travel insurance. Unlock your phone and buy prepaid SIMs. If there's an issue with coverage -- and there shouldn't be with modern smartphones, even on Verizon, for everything but higher-speed data -- buy a cheap unlocked GSM dumbphone.
posted by holgate at 10:39 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: We're going to Paris, Prague, and Munich. Both Chase and Bank of America has the 3% fee. Do you know of a bank that doesn't?
posted by madonna of the unloved at 10:57 PM on March 25, 2015

I've lived in Europe and travel to Europe almost ten times a year.

- Capitol One does not have foriegn transaction fees
- T-Mobile Offers Free Data and Text. It is absolutely gamechanging.

Okay, now for the real stuff.

- Forget the tourist stuff when it comes to food. Don't eat near tourist attractions -- like any American city, if you eat near any major tourist attraction (say... time square) you get overpriced bullshit. Instead go out to the semi-outskirts of major cities for the really good stuff.
- Many European cities use the honor system for public transport. Meaning, you have to have a ticket on you to travel, but there is no gate. Let me be very clear, they absolutely do have patrols that check for your ticket. BUY A TICKET. This has screwed me over many times.
- Uber works in many European cities, it is awesome.
- Forget the subways, while they are amazing, walking is really how to get to see the areas of the city that tourists skip.
- Just like any US city, locals don't visit the tourist attractions, in fact they avoid them like the plague. So should you.
- Don't forget that some of the best local experiences happen in the grocery store. Most European grocery stories contain AMAZING products like wines, cheeses, fresh bread, and meat... all subsided (I'm looking at you, France) so that they become incredible affordable. Some of the best meals I had have in Europe have been on park benches and consisting entirely from food bought at grocery stores.
- And now for the big one: Frankly, if countries are ice cream, Europe is really only a different flavor of the same thing as the US. People are still nice, helpful, kind, sometimes assholes. Restaurants still have good waiters and horrible ones. People are still frustrated at tourists on the metro after a long day of work. Etc. etc.

Have fun!
posted by Spurious at 11:10 PM on March 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

For Paris, unless you're absolutely keen on visiting the Eiffel Tower, I think it is best viewed from afar. Walk the arrondissements by foot and enjoy.

For Prague, have a look around the old town and the sites therein, but do get outside to the surrounding neighborhoods, particularly for drinking and eating. As a general rule, food and drink is better and cheaper outside the old town. Pivovarský dům is great if you like beer. U Fleků, a pub and microbrewery founded in 1499, is very touristy but a rite of passage. Café Louvre is a nice space, great for a bite or a cup of coffee.
posted by ageispolis at 11:21 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Travelers' checks are a huge pain in the ass. Almost nobody takes them; you'll be running around all day looking for a bank or forex place to cash them in. Just suck up the foreign transaction fee - what are you realistically going to spend in cash, like $1000 or less? That's $30 in transaction fees. If you can afford to go to Europe you can afford that sort of fee to avoid the hassle of traveler's checks. And use credit cards wherever you can, which is a lot of places - you can DEFINITELY find a card that won't charge forex fees (though supposedly they make it up by giving you a worse exchange rate, so YMMV). If you insist on using travelers' checks, maybe stick to hotels that can cash them for you at the front desk - call ahead of time to confirm this service, as it's rare.

As for phones, your unlocked AT&T device will probably take a European SIM card but the Verizon one won't. I agree with the posters above that you may have to get a new SIM card for every country you visit; technically you probably don't HAVE to but if you don't you'll pay roaming fees for calls and data in each new "foreign" country you visit. Anecdotally I hated Orange (the French mobile provider) and wish we'd landed somewhere else so I could've gotten started with T-mobile or something instead. Of course once I bought it I was determined to use up every dime instead of starting over, but maybe that's just me.

These comments apply to both Paris and Munich, where I've been in the last ~18 months.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:43 PM on March 25, 2015 [11 favorites]

Here are the no foreign transaction fee things I know about:

- Charles Schwab Investor Checking account reimburses all of your ATM fees, even international fees. I applied for this specifically for an upcoming trip after reading about it on several travel blogs.

- Capital One has no foreign transaction fees for their credit cards. The rate is very good (I have tried in at least 10 countries on 4 continents). This is NOT necessarily true for Capital One checking accounts and ATM fees. If you open or already have a checking account there, check your account terms and fee schedules.

- Other cards that have no fees include the Chase Sapphire and Barclaycard Arrival.

In Paris, if you plan on riding the Metro a lot, buy the carnet of 10 tickets. But walk a lot too, it's really pretty! Also, eat a lot and go to the market, as the quality of food at the supermarket exceeds that of the United States.
posted by melvinwang at 11:54 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Munich's a great city. If there were one city I'd suggest it'd be worth considering getting a rental car to see some of the surrounding countryside, it'd be Munich (though I love Prague and Paris too). Buy a sim locally. T-Mobile/Vodafone has been good for me throughout Europe. As far as WhatsApp, my wife (in Madrid) and I (in the UK) have been using it all morning. It's fine for keeping in touch and will work over wifi or the cell network.

Most places in Europe are safe for tourists. Certainly the three cities you've mentioned generally are. I wouldn't be overly concerned with crime. Actually, I wouldn't be even a little bit concerned, but I'm not going to assume that's the best posture for everybody. Still, if you keep your head about you and don't do anything foolish, worrying about crime is a waste of energy.

There was a great thread the other day with a ton of good advice on travel. Give it a read if you haven't.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:39 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Definitely do use the subway. It's an excellent way to extend the range of your exploring: you can get way outside the city center, beyond what you can walk , or you can take the subway out and walk back in, or you can walk as far as you want and not worry about the way back (because you'll be riding the subway).

None of these cities are scarier or unsafer than your average American city. Just, as always in big cities, be very aware of the possibility that there are pickpockets around. If you are carrying a messenger type bag, keep it under your arm when walking in a crowd.

And travel insurance is always worth it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:32 AM on March 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Europe isn't as foreign as it used to be. All your mentioned cities are not only extremely safe but you'll find all the amenities you expect in any American city. This is especially true of the three cities you've chosen (as others have said, advice might change for, say, certain Italian cities)

I'm an American living in the UK, currently on a short trip to San Francisco. I'm using Whatsapp right now to keep in touch with my wife in the UK and with my mother-in-law in Portugal. So, yeah, that all works fine.

A couple points of my own:

--You are being paranoid about the driving trips. You'll not only be fine, you'll maybe make new friends.

--I haven't seen travelers checks in .. forever. Use your bank card and ATMs. Keep in mind that in Europe we tend to use chip-and-pin cards for payment. This means we put our card in a machine and type in our pin (like an ATM) American cards don't work this way and you'll have to swipe and sign most likely. Most places can handle this - especially in touristy areas - but its just a tip in case you encounter some shop that is confused by your card.

--You're a tourist. Go to the touristy areas! In Paris, this is the Eiffel tower (amazing up close), Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Latin quarter, the Marais.
Last time we were in Munich we ate right next to the FrauenKirche. We sat next to and ate with and chatted with some locals whose families had been in Munich for generations.

--Safety tips. Paris is a big city and, just like NYC, it can be a bit chaotic at times. So do be aware of your surroundings. There are also beggars that might approach you and start talking to you. Just wave them off and keep going. They're not dangerous - just part of the urban background.

--If you do go on a driving trip in only one city, I agree to make it Munich. Surrounding Bavaria is amazing and would make an entire trip by itself. We're planning a Ludwig-themed trip ourselves.

--Yes, get the travel insurance.
posted by vacapinta at 1:46 AM on March 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

Buy good shoes... Keen, merrell, Clarks, something like that. All day walking on cobblestone is killer!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:22 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi experienced European traveller here.

I really hate to say it but buying sim cards and local numbers is really a silly way to go. Even though I am 100% apple user, I use skype on my phone, laptop and tablet with a 10 dollar credit and a USA phone number (12 bucks for 3 months) that forwards incoming calls from stateside or elsewhere to my mobile phone without additional fees.

Every city you are visiting has extremely good wifi coverage - in most places free at public places like trains, train stations, airports etc. as well as pretty much anywhere else you will be. It won´t be hard to make a call when you need one - and the best part is the rates to ring around Europe are next to nothing.

For example, I have been to 8 citie in the past 3 months - still have 4 bucks left on my Skype credit and thats with heavy international and local use at each stop. So out of my initial investment of of 25 dollars I still have enough for a few more cities.

Check it out it is really the best way to go. Local SIM cards are a pain in the arse with credit, Sim cards etc.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 4:06 AM on March 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you ever make a decision not to drive in a European city, that city should be Paris. Its not all as bad as this but it can be pretty bad.
posted by biffa at 4:17 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Munich's a great city. If there were one city I'd suggest it'd be worth considering getting a rental car to see some of the surrounding countryside, it'd be Munich

The city center is very walkable (the zone between Odeonsplatz/ Marienplatz/ Viktualienmarkt/ Englischer Garten/ the museums). I agree that trips to Nuremberg or the zone around Chiemsee and the Alps are also interesting options. Salzburg is also within driving/ shortish train trip distance.
posted by sukeban at 4:33 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Look into a credit union. Ours offers an ATM card that passes on to us the 1% international transaction fee but nothing more--not 3%, not a per-withdrawal fee--if you're using the same network they use, which is available at every ATM we've used in France, no matter how small the town.

No to travelers' checks. Even in the US nobody wants to take them.

I strongly recommend travel insurance.

Wifi is available at every McDonald's in France. Once you are signed up, you'll be able to use their wifi whenever you're in the neighborhood of a McDonald's, just by hanging around outside.

We're with T-mobile. Service was slower there than in the US but still worth having, and we used it with wifi whenever we could.
posted by sevenstars at 4:38 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you easily afford $10k or more in medical costs, rebooked flights, rebooked hotels and emergency calls home if one of you, say, slips and breaks a wrist while on a romantic bike ride in Prague?

If the answer is, "hell no," get travel insurance.
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 4:48 AM on March 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm familiar with Bank of America -- they have a Global ATM Alliance (search for the FAQ item with "Global" in the name). In France, you should use BNP Paribas ATMs and in Germany, Deutsche Bank ATMs. Nothing for the Czech Rep unfortunately.

You will still unfortunately have to pay the 3% BOA fee, but this avoids the additional European ATM-side fees, which are often a flat fee of something like 5 USD per withdrawal (and may not be something that you have considered.)
posted by andrewesque at 5:40 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

As for the advice on tourist sites, I have thoughts on this that are basically, I think it's shortsighted to completely avoid all "tourist sites." There's a difference between tourist sites and tourist traps, in my opinion, and the former (like the Louvre in Paris, for instance) are tourist sites for a reason, because they're worth seeing! Yes, it's true that locals don't go to tourist sites all the time, but locals are also commuting to work at rush hour and running annoying errands and stuff, and I don't know about you, but when I'm on vacation I'm there to relax, not to 100% replicate mundane daily life. But YMMV.

I do agree that you shouldn't eat near tourist sites. In particular, if you happen upon a restaurant that happens to have multiple languages, like on the order of 5+ languages on the menu, that is a particularly bad sign and do not eat there.
posted by andrewesque at 5:51 AM on March 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

Get an offline map for your phone/tablet. "Maps.Me" is one, another is "Here". Download the country maps before you leave home. Your phone's GPS with the app will provide good directions.

Paris is nice, but Lyon is much more manageable, with lots to see.
posted by mbarryf at 5:52 AM on March 26, 2015

We're pondering the safety of driving tours, as we'll be strangers in a strange land.

We found driving from city to city to be absolutely lovely in Spain. Easy to understand road signage and wonderfully maintained roads. Driving in Madrid was . . . stressful. If you are comfortable with city driving, this might not be an issue with you.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:09 AM on March 26, 2015

Having traveled extensively in Europe, and currently living there, I have the following observations:
1) If you plan on almost always doing things together with your traveling companion(s) I would guess that public/free private wifi, Skype, etc will meet almost all of your communication needs. If you will be doing solo ventures it is nice to be able to call/text without wifi--also confirming reservations, hotels etc. I would suggest Vodafone--if you can afford to fly and travel to Europe a single SIM will get you through your destination countries for 2-3 Euro a day prepaid and flat rate.
2) Yes, I would get basic medical, evacuation and flight cancellation insurance. We use Travel Guard but there are other reputable companies--Health care for emergencies/illness in Europe is not free to guests/tourists. Travel insurance/medical is relatively inexpensive and saves needless worry concern.
3) Yes, eat and shop local--do not eat anyplace where there are tour buses or close to tourist attractions/destinations.
4) Driving is very manageable (except in major cities), signage is easy to follow and is fun.
5) Neither my wife or I have ever felt unsafe in the parts of europe in which you are traveling. Reasonable prudence will get you through just fine.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:34 AM on March 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Condiments can be weird. Bring a few of your own. Specifically, and my most recent experience with this is in Italy but it's probably true most places, carry a few little packets of salt (ubiquitous in North America--grab them at the airport on your way out) and if you use any sweeteners other than sugar, that too.

Do not assume that non-chain hotels will have the usual bathroom stuff. BRING A FACECLOTH. In terms of consumables, you may (even in chain hotels) get weird combinations like three sewing kits and no shampoo, so don't rely entirely on the hotels to provide this. On the other hand, you sometimes get awesome bathroom freebies; just remember it may be a slightly random surprise.

If you are going in spring/summer and planning to wear sandals, bring wet wipes of some kind, because your feet will be filthy after about two blocks. This seems to happen any time one is away from home, so it is a general travel tip and not a Europe tip.

If you are planning on even potentially going into any churches/cathedrals etc and either of you is of the female persuasion, invest in a largeish but lightweight fake-pashmina-style scarf. Fold it up, pop it in a zipping sandwich bag, squeeze the air out, zip it closed. Et voila, you have something to cover your shoulders, or wear sarong-style if you are in shorts, or wear as a scarf if it gets cold, or cover your head in the rain, or use as a picnic blanket. Similarly, you may wish to carry a smaller cotton bandanna: it's lifechanging. Make a headband! Wash your face in a public bathroom! Wipe condensation off a waterbottle! But most importantly: never worry about leaving a bathroom with wet hands ever again.
posted by sarahkeebs at 7:07 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tips/Gratuity are normally included in the cost of your meals. Don't add the typical American 15-18-20%. A nice thing to do is to round up to the nearest Euro which is generous and also saves time in making change. Hand your check to the waiter with the money and tell them the amount you wish to pay (e.g. check was €10.40, hand the €20 bill to the waiter and say "eleven".)

Also, tip your bathroom attendant if one is present. 50 cents is nice. These people work for the tips and keep the bathrooms spotless. So keep change handy for things like this - look for a dish near the door.

You may find that some bathrooms want money to enter (especially in rest stops on the highway), the turnstiles take change but then give you a receipt good for that amount in the rest stop's restaurant/convenience store.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:24 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

you shouldn't eat near tourist sites
Breakfast and lunch can usually be covered by using grocery stores and street food/carts, no matter how close they are to an attraction. You want to avoid the sit down places near attractions unless they are recommended by someone you trust.
Lunch can be a crepe with cheese in Paris, a pretzel in Munich and a Trdelnik in Prague. It is not a huge deal to go to a chain you recognize for lunch one day.
posted by soelo at 7:29 AM on March 26, 2015

I recommended KnowRoaming in a previous thread. It might not be as cheap as a local/regional SIM, but it's worth it for the ease of use alone.

If your hotel has a safe, I'd just leave your passports in there and carry only as much cash as you need for the day, plus one credit card and your passport card on your person. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and get a theft-proof bag, but people do walk around Munich, Prague, et al, without them all the time.

Seconding sarahkeeb's recommendation of carrying a lightweight shawl/pashmina and a handkerchief/bandanna.

Read through the T&Cs of the travel insurance being offered, as the things you'll want to look for are protection against missed flights connections due to issues beyond your control, as well as car rental collision coverage and/or medical evacuation.
posted by evoque at 8:08 AM on March 26, 2015

If anybody mentioned this, I missed it, but always MAKE SURE to tell your bank (or whatever agency your credit/bank cards are with) where you will be and when. Otherwise you will get a nasty surprise when you try to get cash or pay for something and discover that your card has been blocked due to suspected fraud and atypical (i.e. out-of-country) spending patterns. Then you will need to spend a whole lot of time making international calls to your bank to get your cards un-blocked. It's happened to me (even though my credit union assured me I was okay before I left), and it sucks. But doing this also limits the possibility of fraud originating in the countries you've visited after you return home.

Guarding your passport is important, and it sounds like you already know that. I usually travel with a belt pouch such as this one. This is where I keep my passport, which I always try to have on my person. I recommend scanning in the first page of your passport and traveling with a print-out of it somewhere in your luggage, in case you lose your original. Also leave a copy with someone you trust at home. This can make getting an emergency replacement easier. My mom had her passport stolen in Spain and getting her a replacement was quite an ordeal.

While I second the others regarding use of Skype instead of SIM cards whenever possible, WiFi can be spotty and Murphy's Law says when you need it, you won't be anywhere near a cafe, airport, or train station. ATT offers a passport plan that can last as few as 30 days. Data charges, including SMS, can get QUITE high if you do not enable international roaming. Like 3-to-4 figures high for just a few minutes of use. Probably wise to get this on at least one phone.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:14 AM on March 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Block enough time on your trip to get away from the capital cities and tour the countryside. The best times that I had vacationing in Europe were always in completely random little villages off the main track. The people are friendlier and it's more relaxed.
posted by ovvl at 10:09 AM on March 26, 2015

Seconding that you notify your banks! All of mine let you set up a travel alert when you log in to your account online. Make sure your spouse does it, too. If you have joint accounts, you should each try to carry at least one credit or debit card that the other is not carrying. That way, if one of you loses everything, the other has a source of money that does not have to be cancelled. Some joint account give you different #s, but most don't.

See if your bank can sell you some Euros and Czech Koruna before you go. Having some cash when you land is pretty nice.

your passport card on your person.
Passport cards are only for land crossings into or out of the US. Not useful in Europe.
posted by soelo at 10:09 AM on March 26, 2015

tip your bathroom attendant if one is present

McDonalds' Golden Arches (and to a lesser extent, Burger King) are your markers for troll-free restrooms in Europe.
posted by Rash at 11:14 AM on March 26, 2015

Passport cards are only for land crossings into or out of the US. Not useful in Europe.

Can be quite useful in Europe, because one needs to carry ID in many countries. It's a legal requirement.
You are generally required to have some form of identity with you at all times, but a driver's license should usually be acceptable. If you don't have one, you'll need to carry your passport.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:26 PM on March 26, 2015

Its worth pointing out you can make an easy day trip from Munich to Salzburg. Its under 2 hours on the train or by car and the landscape makes either a nice trip. Train should be less than US$50 for the both of you. Of course there will be nice places even closer to Munich.
posted by biffa at 1:32 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Europe for the most part (including every place you are visiting) isn´t dependent on cash anymore

Weeeell, Germany's still more about cash for retail, with debit second and credit a very distant third. There will be places that don't take chip-and-PIN credit cards. Cash is reliable low-tech. Take out what you need for a couple of days, every couple of days, ideally in small bills -- if an airport ATM gives you 50 or 100 euro notes, go to a nearby kiosk and politely ask for change into 20s and 10s -- and don't wave it around in the middle of the street.

(I have a USAA checking account with an ATM card that has a good exchange rate without international fees, but I don't think they're accepting new banking customers now unless you're qualified through family or military service.)

On that note: check your pockets for euro coins and spend them before you dig into your wallet for paper money, otherwise you'll end up accumulating $20-30 in euro coins before you know it. Exact change will make you friends. Either exchange euros for koruna in the Czech Republic or keep it stashed for Germany.

What I do agree with wholeheartedly is that western Europe should not be treated as somewhere massively foreign, and that translates into practical advice: if somewhere or some situation feels iffy or sketchy from a US perspective, it's probably iffy or sketchy.
posted by holgate at 9:01 PM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

sarahkeebs: Condiments can be weird. Bring a few of your own.

Please don't be that kind of tourist. You travel to eat foreign food, not to ruin a goulash with ketchup. Doing this in anything posher than a döner kebap restaurant will usually earn you the stinkeye from the wait staff, but it's a hanging offence in France.

(not really, but seriously, why would you?)
posted by sukeban at 4:04 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thirding sarahkeeb's recommendation of carrying a lightweight shawl/pashmina and a handkerchief/bandanna, though I sometimes combine the two ideas into just carrying one largish bandanna or scarf. I wanted to add also that a small packet of tissues and a small bottle of hand sanitizer (or a few individual wet wipe packets) can come in very handy during travel.
posted by gudrun at 9:06 AM on March 27, 2015

Congratulations with your marriage!

Other people know more about the phone situation. My brother who lives in the US has a pre-paid simcard for when he is here in Europe. Many places have complimentary WIFI, so you can get a long way with that.

A good idea is to check out local (expat or just English language) blogs in advance, for tips on food and other activities. Avoid sites like trip advisor.

I was fairly recently in Munich with friends who know everything, and they showed me the area just south of Viktualienmarkt which was really nice with a slightly indie vibe and great shops, galleries and restaurants and cafés. People there were extremely friendly.

Your chosen destinations are very safe and friendly places, safer than many of the big cities in the US. You can stroll around the city centres and enjoy the atmosphere at all hours. Outside the historical centres, I might be a tiny bit more careful at night in Paris and Prague, but I can't see why you would want to go there. There is so much to see and experience in the older parts.

However, you may rethink your approach to safety. When I was a young person traveling about Europe, I noticed that most places I went, even notoriously dangerous places, locals were walking about as if all was normal. Ladies in Rome went about with their purses open, men in Barcelona had their wallets in the back pockets, just like at home. I couldn't understand it, because the different friends I travelled had their pockets picked, and were even robbed - all the time. Europe wasn't as safe then as it is now.

By observing the locals, I picked out the differences. Unless it's very hot, continental Europeans don't wear leisure-clothing in cities like many Brits and Scandinavians do - as well as Americans. Particularly not in Munich and Paris. Wearing "comfortable" clothes makes you visible as a tourist. It doesn't need to be business-wear, just proper. Jeans are OK, shorts are rarely OK, dresses are very good, sundresses not so good. Sweatpants are fine if you are a hip-hop billionaire or Madonna, otherwise not. The scarf advise is good. It's a big joke among my international students that European women always wear scarves - even quite a few men do it too.

Obviously, locals don't carry tourist paraphernalia openly. I often bring a camera to work, because I need it. But I put it in my normal tote, not a "touristy" messenger bag. A smart designer messenger bag is something else though.. If I need to use a map at home, I'll look at it while sitting in a café or even just on a bench, or I'll plan from home. Never walk about with my nose in the phone. By applying the same habits while traveling, I found myself much less pushed and shoved, and in risk of pick-pockets.

I learnt that laundry and dry cleaning are quite cheap in most continental countries, and that wearing clean and pressed clothes at all times possible was a protective measure. It made me look like I had a purpose while walking about, that I was not a dusty, tired tourist.

I learnt to avoid the expensive snackbars and food carts near most monuments and realized that often a fancy looking restaurant will serve me a cheaper and better lunch than that food cart, while also providing a space where I can relax and not think about my purse or my camera. (Streetfood the locals eat is something completely different - the markets are amazing in Paris and Munich).

When I pay for stuff, I take my normal wallet with credit and debit cards in it out of my normal purse, just like at home, rather than attract attention from robbers by carrying large amounts of cash in under-the-shirt wallets. I use the safe in my hotel for valuables and passport and carry my drivers license for ID.

I knew I had cracked the code when I was once walking with a group of good friends who were mocking me for my "formal" attire and "snobby" attitude, and three of them got their wallets stolen by people who crowded them while I was left completely alone, even though I was smaller than them and my purse easier to get at than their travel wallets.

But I am always insured.
posted by mumimor at 1:36 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'd not even consider under shirt wallets for your destinations, or indeed most destinations. You're in large, fairly safe cities. Put your euros and cards in your normal wallets and be done. Store your USD in a sandwich bag in your purse so you have an easier time handling the foreign currency and look less touristy. If you are concerned about carrying around a larger than usual amount of cash in your wallet put some of your withdrawal into another sandwich bag in an interior pocket in your purse. Top up your wallet as required. You can never have too many small ziplock type sandwich bags when travelling. They have infinite uses, beyond keeping apart various currencies.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:02 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and consider if your phone provider can offer you a roaming package. It may be a bit less economical than a local sim card but you're not travelling very long and assuming you can dissuade people back home from calling you too much it would be the most hassle free option. I never get a local sim card because I'm lazy and the slightly higher phone bill won't break the bank.

The only time this got really expensive was when my father called me when I was in Indonesia. We normally have really short calls because he's not a phone person but this call took almost 20 mins. If I'd anticipated that I might have suggested I'd call him once I was back home.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:10 AM on March 28, 2015

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