Sara's Tips for Navigating Europe - My Family Travels

In 2007, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Europe (France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria) for three weeks with the People to People Student Ambassadors ( Within those 21 days, I experienced many new cultures and on the way made some mistakes! I hope to share my blunders and offer my limited wisdom to other teens traveling.

Bring spare change for bathrooms!Over in Europe, bathrooms don’t have to be free! It was quite shocking, and more than once I had to choose between buying a breakfast granola bar and using the bathroom. P.S. some of the toilet seats are automatically cleaned- don’t be afraid of the spinning seats! It actually makes a lot of sense if you think of it…

Watch your language mister! Don’t forget how silly you sound when you try to translate slang into a different language/ culture. For example, saying the boy next to you is ‘hot’ to a French teen will thoroughly confuse them. And boys, don’t expect the Italian girl to understand when you brag about how much swagger you have. It just doesn’t cross over.

But… just because you could mess up doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try- learn some phrases in the country’s native language! You’d be amazed at how it could change their attitude towards you and maybe even towards all American teen travelers!


Room keys- don’t lose them! Besides completely aggravating the hotel managers, you could be losing your electricity for the night. Often in Europe, the room key goes into a slot that allows the lights to be turned on! Keep keys hooked on a lanyard and check to make sure you have them before leaving the room. Once, I ended up crawling on the edge of a very high building to try to open my window from the outside so I could climb in… all because of miscommunication between me and my roomie about who had the key.

Keep a journal. While it may seem like a pain to sit down every night and jot down your thoughts, you will thankful for this in the future! Write everything ! (how you felt, what you ate, funny customs you experienced, etc.) Later in life, when you’re a ripe old age and can’t remember what it was like to be young, it can remind you!  

Consider bringing a cheap video camera that can fit into your purse or murse (man-purse). How cool is it to be able to post on Facebook a video of you zooming down an Alpine slide or tossing a penny into the Trevi Fountain? Very! I would have these precious memories except I left it in a hotel at the end of trip which brings me to my next point…

Designate a section of your suitcase for your special items such as iPod, camera, cell phone, Snuggie, or anything else that you just can’t live without. Double check for these items!

Bring addresses for post cards! It’s cheaper than calling your B.F.F.L. and it makes a great mini present for all who receive it.

Wear proper clothing for the day’s activities. At the Vatican, be sure NOT to wear shorts or tanks- they simply won’t allow you inside. Climbing the Eiffel tower? Bring a sweater and hat- it gets chilly!

If possible, find a way to do stay with a host family for two or three days. It offers unbelievable insight into culture, and if you go when their school is still in session, you’ll probably be able to visit!

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