When traveling it is always helpful to learn travel tips that have worked or not worked from others. And yes there is an app for that like Google Translate and WhatsApp. Some of it is just common sense and being polite. Here are a few tips that we learned this last year.

  1. Don’t Just Ask “Do You Speak English”

Please be polite – in their language learn to say hello, and then you can ask if the person can speak English, ie in French – Bonjour. Parlez vous anglais (see tip 4 about Google Translate). I literally had a woman in Rome run away from me because I didn’t follow my own guidelines.

In addition, learn a few basic words like please, thank you, sorry, excuse me, yes, no, and good bye. Don’t say chao in Italy – it is not polite. It is used when said to a friend.

  1. Cell Phone

Get a European sim card for your phone. The phone store will even install it for you. We happen to use Vodaphone, but there are several others. We tried a service in Norway first, but found it difficult to use. When we were in the UK we got UK sim cards from Vodaphone. We have used our phonesin England, Scotland, Wales, Norway (the second time around), Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark. No matter which country we are in our phones have worked! Vodaphone does not have roaming fees or additional charges for most European countries and the monthly cost was very reasonable. A small expense, as little as five pounds per month, for an important piece of mind.

  1. Download and use the WhatsApp

WhatsApp seems to be the go to communication app used in Europe. It is used to call, send pictures, text and even if you are lost you can send someone your exact location. It is free to download and free to use. So no excuse to not use it. It will work better then many of your other apps. When you need to keep in touch with your travel partner, or anyone else we found this to be a must have app.

It was a lifesaver when we needed a cab to the train station from a new home in northern England. The cab could not find the address on a map but by using the WhatsApp they knew exactly where we were. It is the only reason we made it to the train on time!


  1. Google Translate App

Okay I have had mixed results but I am still glad that I have it. It has saved us more than once. You can also download a language so in theory you do not need Wifi to use it. You can type in a word or use your camera and it will translate the picture as you are holding your phone up to the words – pretty cool when it works.

It did come in really handy when we were guessing what something meant but it turned out we were really wrong! We almost put gasoline in a car that takes diesel. The word diesel in French is “gasoil,” which we thought was gasoline so we almost put in the fuel from the other pump assuming it was the diesel we were looking for – oops. Better not to guess and take the time to look it up.

Also if you are going to a grocery store you might want to look up some words that will be helpful, like beef, chicken, things you use often or just want to make sure that you get it right. If you have a food allergy translate it into the local language. For me I can’t eat cheese, so I always learn to pronounce the word cheese. The app will also give you the verbal pronunciation, very helpful at times.


  1. Two Driving Tips – Mapping Programs and Have Cash With You

Do not rely solely on Google Maps (or any other mapping program) on your phone. Please have a back up plan in place if your phone dies or plain and simple, the program stops working. Data connections are often not reliable and because the program can’t know everything, sometimes the instructions are wrong. (BTW you do know to have a battery backup for your phone, charged and with you at all times!)

Second tip is to have cash on hand if you are driving for two reasons – tolls and gas. Tolls are an obvious reason. You need to get gas or you won’t be able to get home – don’t trust your credit cards to work always have cash.

There was a region in eastern France where we went to four gas stations before we were able to buy gas. The first three – all unattended! – no matter what we did the gas pumps would not take our credit cards. We used the cards later for other things, but for the gas stations they just would not work! We did eventually find a fourth station several miles later, with the empty light seeming to get brighter every mile we went, and it did take cash, but only at two of the 20 pumps at this station. Wow, that was close.







Train Cards can really help you save money!

  1. Get a Train Rail Card

Especially in the UK were we took many train trips the card saved us lots of money. We selected the “TwoTogether” card. As the name implies it is for two people traveling together. There are other cards, so you may want to take a few minutes to explore the options that fit your needs the most.

Side note: booking in advance or round trip will also

save you money. We had one round trip where the return basically cost us nothing.

Europe rail cards can be complicated, you may want to talk to someone who is an expert to get the most out of your train travels.

Okay this was way off the Beaten Path – but we found a wonderful castle ruin to explore!

  1. Off the Beaten Path

Look at some of the smaller towns and cities. Almost every city has a story worth exploring. And think about what you are looking for – food, wine, adventure, relaxation, and so forth. Even if you don’t venture off to some of the smaller locations be sure to look down streets and at times take the less taken path a block or two from the rush of the crowds. While you wander you will most likely come across something no one else you know has seen before – how fun is that.