A fellow TravelTeening mom is welcoming first-time visitors from across the pond, including a few American teenagers. Traveling is already stressful, but traveling to a new country adds pressure for both parents and teens. Here are a few question which I think are useful for anyone (but especially teens) traveling to Europe for the first time.
Will my cell phone work in Europe? How do I connect to family back home?
It’s important to stay connected to friends and family. A mobile phone from the U.S. may work in Europe, but at very high prices, unless you have an international calling plan. Not ready to spend the money for a text from the States? Be sure to turn off cellular data just in case because unexpected calls or texts incur a heavy charge. Most U.S. telecom companies provide an add-on feature for $10 a day or a flat monthly fee of $60. Call ahead of time and ask what’s available. We have used the $10-per day with AT&T, and it doesn’t charge the customer unless it is used. If you don’t use it, you don’t pay.
Related: Family Vacation: Are You Ready?
With an iPhone, as long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi, texting via iMessage is free, but not phone calls. A great international feature for Apple because are teens calling anyone these days? Wi-Fi is available all over Europe like in the U.S. and restaurants will happily give you the password. Museums, hotels, apartments have Wi-Fi, too. My own teens will take the opportunity at various stops to check email and text with friends.
VOIP services like Facetime, WhatsApp, Facebook, Google Hangouts, and Skype will allow calling over Wi-Fi at no cost.
My daughter has a hair dryer and straightener wants to bring on the trip. Does she need a converter?
In Europe the electrical voltage is 220 vs. the 110 in the US. That means more electricity to power appliances. Plugging a U.S. hair dryer into the wall (even with an adapter) will likely fry not only hair but the dryer. Most hotels have hair dryers available, but other small appliances like straighteners, not so much. When traveling, we recommend taking as few things needed to plug into the wall as possible, but Amazon sells dual voltage appliances for $20-$30 if it’s a must have. I prefer keeping things super simple, but I know if hair makes the trip happier for teens then by all means, get it.
Cell phone chargers, laptops, and some speakers are dual voltage and can work in the U.S. and Europe. It will say it on the charger if you’re unsure. But for the most part, only the cell phone will need an adapter for the plug. Bring at least one outlet adapter per person. [Note: The UK is different than the rest of Europe.]
What should my teenager do for money in Europe? She has a debit card, will she need travelers’ checks or cash?
In the majority of European countries, a credit card or debit card will suffice for stores and restaurants. While in London for three days, I didn’t need any cash for anything, including tipping our tour guide. (He had a credit card reader!) However, in some places like Germany, everything is cash based and some places may take a debit card, but only a German one. Everyone takes cash.
No one uses travelers’ checks anymore. Don’t even bother with getting those. Dollars are no use in Europe other than maybe in an airport. Euros are used throughout most of Europe minus the UK, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and countries in Eastern Europe. Getting cash from the ATM is the best bet and the transaction fees are better than the airport. Be sure to let the bank know you are traveling abroad.
When using a credit or debit card at some retail stores, it may ask if you want transaction in dollars or Euros. Go with Euros (or the local) currency. It’s usually more touristy places that do this and will tack an extra exchange fee onto the sale. Do not use an American Express overseas. They also tack on extra fees.
What is European weather like?
This question completely depends on where and when you travel. A few general things to point out. Most of Europe does not have air conditioning. That doesn’t mean they don’t need it. Places such as France, Germany, and Austria can get hot! The farther south the more likely hotels may have air conditioning but no guarantee. Public transportation and shops may not. Go farther north, you can be certain there is no AC, but it can still be warm. In the winter, most of Europe is heated by radiator heat.
Days can be warm, but the evenings in many places will be cool. Bringing layers in every season is important. Hats, sunglasses, a scarf (critical), fleece, and rain coat are always important to have on hand.
What kinds of things should my teenagers pack when traveling to Europe for vacation?
The #1 most important thing is comfortable shoes. Whatever city, walking is the main form of transportation. I tell my teens to take two pairs of shoes in case their feet hurt from one pair they can swap them out. Hurting feet is not an option.
I have seen fancy people dressed in Paris at one point, but for the most part, even the locals, are dressed in sensible clothing. Jeans, shorts, and tanks are worn by everyone. It used to be I could pick out the Americans based on clothing, now everyone looks the same. The most important is to be comfortable and wear clothing that can go from walking tour to restaurant to church (might need a scarf to cover bare shoulders).
As mentioned before, layers are critical for every season. The less bulky, the easier to pack and stuff into a back pack. Yes, bring a back pack or a cross-body shoulder bag to hold water, extra layer, etc. If the suitcase allows for snacks like protein bars, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, or granola, it’s not a bad idea to bring those along. Hangry teenagers are not very fun.
What do we need to know about eating and drinking in Europe?
Again, it really depends on the city. Eating meals can take longer than in the U.S. and other than McDonalds, Burger King, or Subway, there isn’t much fast food. However, bakeries with sandwiches are quick, bountiful, and good almost everywhere. In many countries like Spain and Italy, mealtimes tend to be later. Lunch is mid afternoon and dinner is late (8 or 9 pm). However, we’ve always been able to find places to eat at anytime when we are hungry. Bread may be put on the table, but it’s more than likely not free. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t eat it or say no thank you.
Drinks like water and coke can cost more than beer or wine. Water can be with bubbles or without (with gas or without) so make sure you specify. In Germany, it’s almost impossible to get tap water—called “leitungswasser”—at a meal, but I am trying to start a revolution because the tap water is delicious. In Spain, England, and France, we were happily served a bottle of tap water when we asked for it. But you have to ask and it doesn’t come with ice. Because of the lack of bottomless glasses of water at a restaurant, I recommend always traveling with a water bottle. Scandinavia is a different story. They usually have free water everywhere for everyone to drink.
The legal drinking age in many European countries is 16 for beer and wine and 18 for everything else. Drinking is part of the culture and is done anywhere, cafes, bars, by the rivers, in the streets, on the trains, but It tends to be very civilized for the most part. When traveling with teens, it’s a good idea to talk about it before you go.
Are their public bathrooms in Europe and do we pay to use them? Is Starbucks an option like in the U.S.?
It depends. Some cities, like Paris and Copenhagen, have public bathrooms on the streets. Some may be free and some will cost a little pocket change. In general, the rule when we travel is if there is a free clean bathroom, which is every restaurant and most tourist attractions, then go. Some department stores or train stations may require a fee to use their WC/toilets. But with those, they have a little old lady or man who is cleaning the bathroom constantly. For this, I don’t mind paying.
Starbucks bathrooms usually require a code that is either on your receipt or given to you by the barista. Sometimes, if you wait by the door, you can slip in after someone else. It’s a good idea to keep some change on hard for bathroom breaks.
If you have more questions, please let me know in the comments.