Stay Safe: Avoid These Mistakes While Traveling in Europe

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Preparing for your trip to Europe? It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the local laws and cultural etiquette to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. An internet user sparked a conversation on a subreddit by asking, “What should people avoid while traveling to Europe?” From experienced European travelers, here are some things you should avoid to ensure a pleasant time for yourself with respect to the law and the locals.

1. Beware of Europe’s Sly Pickpockets

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Pickpocketing is a common issue in major European cities. Many unsuspecting tourists fall prey to them, particularly around tourist attractions and on public transport.

One of the commenters warned, “Watch out for pickpockets in Western Europe. There is a stigma that Eastern Europe, like Romania and Bulgaria, is dangerous, but pickpocketing happens more in Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, etc.”

Even in glamorous cities, your safety isn’t guaranteed. Be vigilant to protect your money and valuables.

2. Avoid Dining Disasters in Tourist Restaurants

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Be wary of restaurants that aggressively coax you into entering. Often, these establishments will overcharge you, provide poor value for your money, or manipulate the situation against you.

One commenter explained how this typically happens: “… “Come sit down” as they shove a menu in your face, fast-talking, usually offering a free drink/entree/dessert, basically trying to make you feel bad about turning them down.”

Another user offered a tip for spotting tourist trap restaurants, saying, “If the menu is translated to several languages that aren’t spoken in the country, then the restaurant is for tourists.”

Opt for dining at less touristy places to get more value for your money and better quality food.

3. Respect the Bicycle Paths

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Cycling is not just a leisure activity in major European cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. It is a part of daily life, and people use bicycles regularly for commuting.

Distinct bicycle and pedestrian paths can be found in these cities. If you are walking, stick to the pedestrian lanes. As one commenter advised, “Don’t walk on bicycle paths if you come to the Netherlands.”

4. Beware of Europe’s Cunning Con Artists

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Street scams in European cities come in all forms. Don’t underestimate how seemingly simple and subtle it can begin.

One reader recommended educating yourself about common scams in Europe before visiting. They explained, “These scams vary, and you should read about them before you go so you’re aware. Some common ones I have seen include people in costumes (mostly Roman centurions) who will accost you for pictures with them and demand an absurd amount of money for the pictures.”

Common scams include people shoving objects such as flowers and bracelets into your hands and demanding money, someone asking for directions to distract you while their accomplice steals from your bag, and children asking you to sign petitions.

One user offered tips to avoid scams: “Basically, you just have to understand that if you’re a tourist in a city, no one will have a good reason to talk to you. No one needs directions from you or a petition signature; anyone trying to stop and talk to you in a major tourist destination is likely a scam.”

If you find yourself in such a situation, this advice from another commenter could be useful, “If you do get into a situation where someone is demanding money from you (maybe you stepped on a painting or took that ill-advised picture with the Centurion) say, “Okay, let’s go find a police officer. I will pay you in front of the police officer.” That usually gets them to back down quickly.”

5. Choose Comfort Over Style on Europe’s Cobblestones

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Walking in heels on the cobblestone streets of Europe can be challenging. While you may see European women comfortably wearing heels, they are accustomed to it.

One commenter warned tourists against this fashion faux pas, saying, “Do not wear stilettos in Germany for the love of God. You will slip and fall in front of 100 people, including children, who will point and laugh at you as you wobble away on the cobblestone with quivering ankles.”

Sneakers, espadrilles, and other flat and comfortable shoes are better choices when touring major cities.

6. Plan Your Road Trip Wisely

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While it’s convenient to drive from one country to another in Europe, it’s important to have a clear plan before considering renting a car.

One user advised, “Don’t rent a car if you’re going to stay in a major capital; it’s not worth it; it’s much better to use public transport and get an occasional Uber.”

Public transport in major Western European cities is top-notch. Make use of it to save money.

However, if you’re looking to explore the countryside, renting a car can be a great idea. As one user suggested, “Don’t be afraid of renting a car if the bulk of your trip is in more rural areas. European cities are awesome, but there are plenty of amazing experiences in less populated areas that are hard to reach via public transit.”

One user cautioned about cross-country car rentals, stating, “One thing to remember is you will pay a huge fee if you drive from one country to another and don’t return the car. For example, if you rent a car in Frankfurt and drive through Switzerland and into Italy, you’ll pay a hefty fee to return the car to (Hertz or whatever car rental company) in Italy.”

7. Be Mindful of Holocaust-Related Laws

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Every culture has sensitive topics best not broached unless you’re well-informed and mindful of their significance. In Germany and some other European countries, the Holocaust and Holocaust denial are such topics.

One user warned, “Should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t do the “Hitler salute” while in Germany. Not even as a joke – it’s illegal. And: Holocaust denial is illegal in 18 European countries.”

There have been instances of tourists being assaulted for making the Hitler salute, and people have faced legal charges for denying the Holocaust. Be careful not to break laws related to these sensitive subjects.

Another user added, “Also, Nazi and communist symbols are banned in Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Ukraine. It’s not just illegal; people generally don’t like it. You’ll get arrested, and people will be entirely on the police’s side.”

8. Don’t Get Caught With Locked American Devices

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You might be unable to use your locked American phone while traveling in European countries. With a locked phone, you may have to resort to expensive roaming unless you have a suitable package from your provider.

One user explained, “Your locked American phone may not work with an airport SIM card. This is one of the reasons I always buy my unlocked phone rather than buying or leasing one from my service provider.”

9. Don’t Expect Uniformity Across Europe

Lake Bled located in Slovenia Europe
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Europe is a continent made up of 50 diverse countries. Don’t assume that one country will be like the next, even if they’re just a few hours apart.

As one commenter pointed out, “Don’t think that what goes for one country goes for all. There are all sorts of differences in cultures, laws, etc.”

Keep an open mind, educate yourself about the various laws and cultures, and embrace the diversity that you encounter.

10. Don’t Neglect the Importance of Respectful Communication

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Language barriers can be daunting, but it’s important to approach them with respect and patience. Most Europeans appreciate a sincere effort to communicate in their local language, even if it’s just a greeting or ‘thank you’.

One user stated, “Don’t forget to learn a few basic phrases in the local language. You’ll earn a lot of goodwill by making an effort, and you might be surprised how many people speak English and are willing to help you out if you’re respectful.”

Another advised, “Avoid loud conversations, especially on public transportation. Europeans, in general, tend to be quieter in public than Americans.”

Being courteous and respectful of others’ cultures will make your journey more enjoyable and rewarding.

11. Avoid Overpacking

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European cities are often best explored on foot, which means you might find yourself lugging your luggage over cobblestone streets and up narrow staircases.

One user warned, “Don’t overpack. You’ll have to drag that suitcase over cobblestones, upstairs, onto trains… it’s not fun.”

Consider packing only what you’ll use rather than everything you think you might need. A lighter suitcase will make your travel more enjoyable.

Traveling to Europe can be a thrilling and enriching experience. Keep these tips in mind to help you avoid common mistakes and enhance your journey. Remember, when you’re respectful and open-minded, you’re more likely to have a fantastic experience and create lasting memories. Happy travels!

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Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.