How Bad do YOU suck at Traveling?

Traveling in Europe sucks…

If you are a Jerk.

Recently I had a friend traveling with me for two weeks.  For two weeks she was a source of amusement.  For two weeks her Americanism was showing…

More than that, for two weeks we were jerks.

Coming back from our whirlwind adventure I spotted a local community newsletter insisting that we should hide our Americanism by talking in whispers and making an effort to NOT wear our Captain American t-shirts out in public…

Oops!

It turns out that we were both total failures.  We were jerks.

I laughed at the newsletter.  I laughed at myself.  I laughed at my friend.  We had plenty of reasons to laugh.  I laughed because unless that American is dressing and acting like the natives, they will stick out 98% of the time.  With their Nike shoes.  With every t-shirt they own.  With the way they walk.  With the way they talk…

I laughed because I am a firm believer that unless you are going to take over the bills and instruct me on what to wear and how to wear it, comfort while traveling is what I am going to go with. To change something that is fundamentally a part of their identity is foolishness and it’s the reason cultural terrorists are winning.

Looking back on my experience in the last year, I sobered up.

I believe it is the focus on the wrong attitude that actually indicates how many of us are not prepared to travel.

On my trips I noticed that there was a bigger offended, a Grade A Jerk.

And that truly is no laughing matter.

This jerk is so rude they walk into another country and expect to be accommodated.  To be offered food that they recognize and to change how business is conducted so that they are more comfortable.

Which is pretty absurd!  If you walked into your home town restaurant and asked for a menu, would they be able to offer it in any other language than in your native tongue?  Would you expect them to fall all over themselves trying to accommodate a foreign visitor… or would they look at you like you lost your mind?

Unless you booked a touristy trip with a touristy guide on touristy mode of transportation, you should make an effort to avoid being a jerk.

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned that you should know;

Money

Speaking from my experience in Germany, Germans prefer cash or bank to bank transactions.  When I am billed by a business they either ask me for my bank number or give me theirs.  Which is what an EC-karte system (or what I like to call an electronic card…but I’m not sure it could also mean Eurocheque but it’s not really a check) is for… to make bank to bank transactions.  Now I know I have benefited from using my debit/credit card at a couple of grocery cards, but I always see it as a bonus.  I am also aware that if a business has given you that option, you should be concerned.  It usually means either a minimum amount must be met (forcing you to spend 2 to 3 times what you planned) or they have an extra fee attached.

My card has a chip, I’m golden.  Nope.  Even if your card has a chip, and the place of business you are visiting has a chip reader, it doesn’t mean your card will work.  Look for the Visa or Mastercard logo or the word “Geldautomat”.  Yes that last word means it’s an ATM and that is a good place to pull out the money you need.

Oh noo, the fees will kill me!  If you’re worried about the exchange rate or the banking fees at a Geldautomat, don’t be.  They are very reasonable and most ATMs are on the same system.  I will say that if a Geldautomat has the ability to allow you to make the transaction in your language, you should be good to go.  If you are a bit of worry rat you might also look for a VISA or Mastercard logo, which is a dead giveaway.  

If you are traveling on your credit card.  You can pull money out from your credit card at an ATM.  You will need a PIN.  Make sure to look at your credit cards policy to figure out how much you can pull out at a given time, and how much is available to you as cash.

If you are traveling with a resident, let them know your situation.  It’s not rude to let them know what the extent of your money situation might be.  It’s rude to make them believe money isn’t holding you back, and then come up short when it’s time to pay.  If you let your traveling companions or host know ahead of time, you do them the favor of knowing what they can expect from you.  Better yet your host can recommend better activities for your combined budget.  On the other hand I know many hosts who are more than willing to be responsible for the finances as long as they don’t feel taken advantage of.

When traveling be open and honest about your financial situation.

Deciding Where to Go

If you are not booking a trip with an agency, you need to consider doing your own foot work.

  • Think about what inspires you about the country you are visiting.
  • The distance between points of interests.
  • How much time you want to spend at each place.
  • The kinds of activities you want to do.
  • The amount of money you want to spend for activities.
  • The amount of money you want to spend for food.
  • The type of accommodations you expect for each leg of your journey.

From here on out I’ve decided I need to reserve a place before I get on the road… especially during the busiest tourist season of the year.  The idea of finding an AirBnB or a Hostel was quickly shot out the door… and a very exhausting way to find out is when no one answers the phone and you go door to door.  Luckily on this trip Booking.com saved me on every leg… and surprised me with some neat and affordable finds. Still, seeing a couple of hostels in person hasn’t made me give up on it… yet…

Traveling on your own power? I recommend that you pick up a guide-book.  My favorites ones are Frommers, Lonely Planet, and DK’s Eyewitness or DK’s Top 10.  Most of which you can find in your library right along with Rick Steve’s guidebooks.

The best guidebooks tell you how much each attraction will cost and if the city offers a pass.  The worst place for guidebooks seems to be Berlin.  My number one recommendation is to plan a minimum of 2 days and take a hop on -hop off tour first, so you can see where everything is in relation to each other.  Matter of fact pick up the 1 Euro map from the tourist office.  It’s better than any other map I laid my hands on.

Once you get an idea of what might be interesting to you, Google the distance between places.  Traveling by car? Bus? Train?

Still not sure how your vacation is shaping up? Trip planner apps are your friend!  For me the ADAC travel planner is a good place to begin.

Things are usually not free.  If they are free, it’s polite to leave a donation.  It’s up to you to decide how much or whether you can better support such an attraction via a purchase.  If you don’t support them in some way, eventually free things go away.  The other thing is that free attractions are not usually central to the rest of the activities.  Consider how much time and money you want to give up if something is out-of-the-way.

If your host says they have everything in hand, then ask yourself… am I along for the ride or am I helping to steer this adventure?  One of the big indicators is figuring out who is paying for what.  If you want more of a say then you need to decide if you want to be an equal partner in the financial department.  If you want them to take over 100% then you have no room to complain if the experience isn’t up to your expectations.

If your host wants to surprise you… Let them.  If they see you have a particular interest they may want to spoil you with an extra bonus on your trip.  Especially if you have been openly communicating what you hope to see! If they suggest a city pass or museum pass or taking more time to explore an area then originally planned, you should trust that your host knows you and the area well enough.  If you don’t think they know you, then make sure you communicate that and tell them what you really do want.  Want my advice?  Consider that your host wants the best for your visit and you will enjoy it more if you take the suggestion!

Looking back over the last year I can offer a rough rule of thumb for travelers on a budget.  For each city begin with 50 Euros for getting around the city and a souvenir or two.  For every dining out experience you hope to do, 20 Euros.  For on the road and budget friendly meals, 10 Euros.  Calculate this per person.  Roughly this starting base comes out to 100 Euros per person per day.

It does not include the cost of transportation or the cost of your activities.

For transportation, calculating the distance is key.  For a 2 hour round trip excursion by car, its about a 100 Euros to fill up on the economy… for me.

Looking at it this way lets me think about whether I want to drive, if I will get help from other drivers… or it encourages me compare the value of driving from place to place with the price of a train or airplane ticket.  Penny pinchers might be able to plan a days worth of activities and meals for 100 Euros… for the whole family, but in the end the cost of transportation can’t be avoided.

When traveling decide what your priorities are and take an honest look at how you are going to do it.

Speaking the Language

Nobody expects a tourist to speak the language.

They also expect tourists to stay with a group and expect a guide to interact between them.  If you decide to venture on your own you might want to decide to take a look at the back of the guidebook so that you are familiar with the words you might need.

I strongly advised using Doulingo to help you feel more comfortable with the words you might encounter. Or if your friend is a native, you might feel you have nothing to worry about… ask them about their language.  Ask them what they you should know in case you get separated from the group… but under no circumstances should you stamp your feet and get irritated at the store clerk or server for not understanding your English.

Here is why it might be important for you to learn a few words in another language…

I want a Menu with pictures on it!  Let me tell you, only certain types of eateries will have menus with pictures on it.  The fast food kind.  If that is what you prefer then don’t let me stop you.  There is a whole industry ready to cater to you!  I simply think you’re missing out on the whole experience another country can offer you…  On the other hand if you like a certain dish and want to find the most amazing example of that dish, ask your host where to find the best!   Otherwise your host is more inclined to bring you to a place with without pictures on the menu.  From there the offerings often cater to the more regional and classier dishes, where the attention on the menu is on the tantalizing words used to describe the drool worthy dish.

I want an English Menu!  If you stick to touristy places and with a touristy guide, I am sure they will get you what you want without you even asking for it.  If you take a step away from the touristy grid to go on your own, you need to come to terms that you need to know a few keywords.  Or do what I did when I first arrived overseas and randomly point at something on the menu.  It was a great way for me to learn what that dish was called.  My favorite menu accident? Liver dumpling soup… and I loved it!  To be clear, it’s okay to ask and see if they have an English menu, it is not okay to harass them about the lack of one!

How dare they! What’s their problem?  Most people overseas will mind their own business.  Listening to my travel companions over the last year you would think that the native residents were rude and standoffish.  When the truth is they are either trying to respect your privacy or be up front with you… in other words helpful!  I get it.  It takes time to understand the meaning of certain phrases but usually if you spend a little with the language, you can figure out what they are talking about.  Imagine if you were walking around in circles and a native saw you were having problems.  Imagine if they told you the solution you needed, but you didn’t understand what they were saying… bummer.  Look at all the time wasted.  Or better yet, if you unconsciously mean mugged every passerby, think of how many opportunities to get help you ended up scaring away…

I’m not advocating that you speak the language fluently the first time you visit.  Rather to understand enough of some basic words (start with courtesy words, directional/location type words) and maybe the body language of the culture you are visiting would do you wonders.  I can tell you that my pronunciation is probably closer to the sound of a mating elephant and that I often forget the right way to say something, but making an effort has led me to actually learning more about the culture… and opening doors to me that I would have missed.  I am not ashamed to say that on a couple of occasions Google Translate came to my aide!

When traveling understand that language is the essential and evolving bond between human beings.

The important thing to remember if you’re trying to get the most out of traveling Europe is not to let the language barrier keep you from traveling!  Wherever you go and whatever you decide to do, I strongly urge you to make an attempt in your own way…

but don’t let it be an excuse for you to be a Grade A Jerk!

 

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2 Responses to “How Bad do YOU suck at Traveling?”

  • Amazing! LOVE LOVE LOVE! I was totally LOL-ing at the beginning. I told try to pack us un-American as possible. But our loud children give it all away.

    • Keep On Winking with Christi Reply

      Right?! Like how am I suppose to un-Americanized this wild bunch when I still have to remind them to brush their teeth and eat their veggies?

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