When In Rome: 10 Mistakes Americans Make While Traveling In Europe

by Hilary Burns

No matter how many times you’ve been to Europe, traveling abroad is always a learning experience. Not only do you absorb the history of the monuments and museums you visit, but you also learn how to be a better traveler.

From pickpocketing to language barriers, there are always obstacles that present themselves amidst travels. These issues can cause mistakes — some more disastrous than others.

Here is a list of 10 common traveling missteps of Americans that can mar an otherwise lovely trip abroad. Hopefully, reading this over now will save you some trouble next time you’re overseas.

1. Don’t assume everyone speaks English.

While many Europeans do speak English, don’t assume that every person you encounter is fluent. This is especially true when you visit more remote towns that are outside of major cities.

To overcome this obstacle, carry a phrase book with you and memorize a few key lines before you arrive at your destination. You can also download translation apps, like SayHi Translate for $1.99, or Google Translate, which is free.

2. Don’t wear shirts that feature your college’s name.

The same thing goes for fraternity and sorority letters -- just leave them at home. These shirts scream, “I am an American,” and make you a pickpocketing target.

3. Wear comfortable shoes.

After studying abroad in London for three months, I arrived in Rome thinking I knew all of the tricks and tips for a successful study abroad experience. I remembered walking a lot, but I didn’t want to look like an American tourist in sneakers, so I packed my most comfortable sandals.

Learn from my mistake. Bring sneakers! Nothing is more uncomfortable than walking on swollen feet that are covered in blisters.

4. Always lock backpacks or cross-body bags.

Purchase a small lock and latch it on the zipper of your bag. This will prevent sneaky pickpockets from unzipping your bag in a crowded bar and taking your iPhone, wallet or even worse, your passport. Always be aware of your surroundings and hold your bag in front of you in crowded areas.

5. Don’t book the cheapest hostel.

Just last weekend, my friends and I booked a last-minute hostel for one night in Florence. We chose the cheapest hostel for 24 euros, justifying the decision by saying, “It’s only one night.”

Well, we got what we paid for. When we arrived, there was a five-foot-wide hole in the floor of the lobby and no locks on the bedroom doors. There was also a strange odor that was strong enough to turn our overnight trip to Florence into a day trip.

While some hostels can be a great, less expensive alternative for students traveling on a budget, be sure to conduct a lot of research and read all of the reviews before you book.

6. Don’t bring a US hair dryer.

Hair dryers from the States use a lot of power. If you plug one into a European electrical socket, you may be stuck in the dark for a while after you undoubtedly blow a fuse.

7. Don't eat at restaurants near tourist attractions.

Although it may be convenient to stop for lunch after sightseeing near major monuments, many of these restaurants are tourist traps with overpriced, mediocre food.

Wander down side streets to try smaller, more authentic European meals. My personal rule of thumb is that if there are swarms of Americans eating at one restaurant, move on to the next spot.

8. Don't forget deodorant.

This may seem like an innocent mistake, but when it is 95 degrees outside and you have to walk six miles to see all of the sights, you will find yourself looking for the nearest pharmacy to grab a stick of deodorant.

However, the deodorant that’s available in much of Europe is more expensive and less effective than the US sticks. Don’t expect to walk down the aisle and have 50 choices from which to pick, as you do at home.

9. Don’t take unmarked cabs.

Just don’t do it. Unmarked cabs will rip you off and aren’t necessarily safe.

10. Don't set expectations too high.

Traveling abroad is a wonderful opportunity to learn about another culture and reach outside of your comfort zone. While you are being dazzled by sprawling landscapes and impressive architecture, it’s easy to forget that not every moment of your trip will be perfect.

There will be bumps along the way and sometimes, you’ll miss your air-conditioned home. These uncomfortable moments are also part of traveling, so keep a positive attitude and make the most of your time abroad.

Photo Courtesy: Flickr