Europe holds a mystical appeal for a lot of Americans. Schools teach us European culture and history, while many of our families originated someplace on the ancient continent.
Visiting Europe tops many of our travel bucket lists. However, tourists need to be wary. Not everything in Europe is magical.
While scrolling through my favorite community on Reddit, R/askreddit, I stumbled upon a thread asking users to share the real-world experience of what you should avoid on a European vacation.
If you plan on traveling across the pond, you may want to heed some of this sage advice!
Falling Into Canals
Far too many tourists fall into canals in Amsterdam and other European cities. The US doesn’t have many cities with canals, so Americans don’t often think about how to navigate them, especially after a night of partying.
“On average, each year, 15 men die from being drunk and peeing in the canal,” shared one user, adding that it’s not only about drinking too much. “It has something to do with your blood pressure dropping when you’re peeing, which makes you lose your balance,” they said.
Amsterdam has public toilets, so there’s no reason even to attempt peeing in the canal.
However, that’s not the only reason folks fall into canals.
“In Delft, it happens super often that tourists (or students from abroad) fall into the canals when the water is high, and there is “eendenkroes” on top because it looks just like grass,” replied another user.
Walking on Bicycle Paths
Americans aren’t used to bike paths. Our cities are car-friendly, and we don’t always consider the needs of cyclists.
Many European cities are designed for pedestrians and bicycles. Most have special lanes on sidewalks dedicated to bikers, but you’d be surprised by how many American tourists decide to walk in the bike paths.
At best, tourists who wander into bike lines will get yelled at, but at worst, the misstep can result in serious accidents.
“The bike paths are brutal!” exclaimed one user. “I nearly got ran over several times before I figured it out.”
Another shared how costly the mistake can be. “A friend of my parents was in the Netherlands, was looking the wrong way, and accidentally wandered onto a bike path. Long story short, he ended up in the hospital and had to spend $15,000 on a medical flight back to the US,” they said.
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Any major city has its share of petty crime. Street scammers specifically target tourists, hoping to make a buck off their lack of street smarts.
“No one warned us before we went over. Never seen anything like the level of scamming,” said one user in a thread about scammers in Rome.
Another chimed in to say that pickpockets are also common in most European cities. “I’ve seen it in Paris, France, Barcelona, Florence…any popular tourist destination is going to have pickpockets,” they replied.
The user gave examples of common street scams they’ve seen. People dressed in costumes will demand outrageous sums for photo ops, art sellers will intentionally set up their wares so you step on them, demanding payment for the “ruined” work, and “lost” travelers will distract you while their accomplices pick your pockets.
These are just small examples of scams you may encounter while traveling abroad. It’s important to maintain situational awareness and pay attention to who and what is around you to avoid them.
In some countries, hassling is part of the culture. Istanbul even set up “hassle-free zones” where the appeal is that people DON’T accost you every 5 seconds asking you to come into their restaurant or shop.
However, in many European countries, it’s best to avoid the restaurants that try to force you to come inside.
“Avoid any restaurant that tries to strong-arm you into entering,” stated one user.
Another described how it works. The owner will get too close to comfort and practically beg you to come in. “Come come sit down” as they shove a menu in your face, fast-talking, usually offering a free drink/entree/dessert, basically trying to get you to feel bad about turning them down,” they shared.
Outside places where it’s the cultural norm, if a restauranteur is hassling you to enter, it’s probably not a good place to dine.
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Don’t leave your stuff unattended anywhere.
“Don’t leave stuff lying in the seat next to you on public transport,” shared one user, while another replied, “Don’t leave stuff lying around anywhere. Don’t put your stuff next to you on the table if you’re sitting outside at a restaurant. Someone can just run up to you from behind, grab the phone/wallet and run away.”
Many European thefts are opportunists. They work in tourist areas looking for easy targets. Don’t wear backpacks on your back, don’t put them on the back of chairs, keep your wallet in your front pockets, and hold onto your valuables.
US travelers are used to renting cars everywhere they go. They’re a necessity in most American cities.
However, unless you’re planning a road trip, you won’t need to rent a car in most European metropolises.
“Don’t rent a car if you’re going to stay at a major capital, it’s not worth it, it’s much better to use public transport and get an occasional Uber,” offered one user.
Although there are exceptions, most European cities are easily walkable, and you can get to wherever you’re going by train or bus.
Other users agreed but stressed that a car rental is still a good idea if you’re traveling to rural areas or outside major cities.
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Being That Guy
Europeans, especially Germans, take racism and antisemitism seriously.
“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.” shared one user.
YouTube is filled with videos of pranksters doing horribly offensive things in Germany and getting their just rewards for it. You shouldn’t even be that guy in the states, don’t go to Germany and try to be funny.
It’s not funny. It’s offensive and illegal in many European countries.
Some Americans treat Europe like a monolith but would do well remembering its diversity.
Europe hosts 44 unique countries with different cultures, traditions, laws, culinary practices, and even languages.
“Don’t think that what goes for one country goes for all. There are all sorts of differences in cultures, laws, etc.” advised one user.
Another added that different regions of the same country could be vastly different, just like in the states. “Also applies to regions within countries. Don’t dismiss an entire country just because of one city or part of one city,” they shared.
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Although most people are generally good, we must protect ourselves against nefarious players. It’s just as important to remember safety while traveling abroad as in the US.
One user said you should avoid “Creepy dudes outside airports tryin to split cabs,” referencing the hit movie Taken. Although most people won’t become victims of trafficking, bad actors may offer “rides” for numerous reasons – they may be scoping out your room to rob you later or have assault in mind.
Another user shared that you should avoid drivers helping you “avoid the line,” as most will charge you an outrageous fee after you get into the car.
Currency exchanges often charge ridiculous fees for exchanging your money. However, in today’s world, most of that can be avoided.
“Just use your debit or credit card everywhere. If you need some cash, take it out of the atm. Exchange rates will be much better, no commission, 3% fee from your bank, but that’s reasonable,” advised one user.
It’s wise to let your bank know you will be traveling before you go so they don’t cut your card off when they see questionable foreign transactions, and be sure to check your bank’s guidance on foreign exchange and ATM fees – not all credit and debit cards offer the same perks.
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European Travel is Magical
I’ve been to numerous European countries and can attest that it’s a truly magical place. However, many of the things Redditors shared in this thread are true: scammers abound, people fall into canals, and most major cities are walkable.
Don’t let these things deter you from booking your European vacation. A little situational awareness and pre-planning will help you prevent the pitfalls and make the most of your journey across the pond!
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Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.