As part of the continual effort to procrastinate on my paper, here are five random tips for those of you who haven’t yet started your European adventure.
1. Always carry change for the toilets. Peeing is rarely free in Europe. Unless you are male, that is. Especially in Amsterdam, where there are plastic urinals scattered throughout the city. The whole place is like an outdoor concert. For the rest of us, plan to pay anywhere from 10 to 50 euro cents to use a public toilet. Make the most out of it – I still sort of wish I had taken a camera with me into some German rest stops, where the toilet seats actually rotate and self-clean. It is how I imagine Japan to be, where hygiene and technology go hand-in-hand. Also in Germany – when you pay 50 cents at certain roadside stops, you get a coupon for 50 cents off of a food purchase. Even a roadside schnitzel is better than no schnitzel at all.
2. Sticker your fruit. When in a European grocery store, don’t fill a bag with nectarines and expect to pass smoothly through the checkout. I tried this in a Paris MonoPrix with a naked apple and the cashier was not pleased. She lectured me in French that I couldn’t keep up with, then the man behind me grabbed the fruit and ran off. Literally, ran, as I stood confused. He returned, breathless, thirty seconds later, proudly producing an apple with a bar coded sticker on it. Even if you are only buying a single grape, I recommend that you weigh it on the scale and attach a sticker. It’s for everyone’s benefit.
3. Do stuff. Even if you don’t feel like it. OK, you’ve been on a long bus ride. It’s raining. You’re hungover and desperate for a shower. The last thing you want to do is take a free walking tour of Bruges with a bunch of virtual strangers. Do it anyway. Whether it’s a free tour or a night bike ride or a hike to the top of a fortress, don’t cop out. Suck it up and do it – you’ll usually get the benefit of local knowledge and see places you would otherwise have missed out on. But please. Shower first, which you really should have done before getting on the bus in the first place.
4. Create a Facebook account. Yes, it is kind of like selling your soul to the internet, but on the other hand, it’s a really easy way to trade photos and keep in touch with people. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve already caught up with several people in London who I might otherwise not have seen again. We also have access to each other’s photos. Much better results than empty promises to ‘stay in touch’ and ‘send that group picture from Salzburg.’
5. Take pictures of people. Not just buildings. This sounds obvious, but it’s such an easy trap to fall into, especially after several weeks of travel. The last thing you want is an album full of you, making the same pose, in front of a building that may as well be a backdrop. “This is me in front of the Eiffel Tower. This is me in front of a church in Berlin. This is me, looking exactly the same, in front of the Alps.” Be that annoying person who is always carrying around a camera and instructing people to look your way. The pictures you are going to want later are not the ones of anonymous monuments. But if you don’t get any good shots, you can always steal other people’s photos from Facebook.