My husband and I took the European trip of our dreams last fall, starting with a week in Paris, one of my favorite spots, and making our way to Munich, Luxembourg, Amsterdam and Stockholm.
We packed only one backpack each and set out excited, nervous and most-of-all, ready for whatever unexpected adventures would inevitably come up. Between our afternoon espressos and evening liters of wine, I learned many lessons that I’ll take with me for the trips I hope to go on in the future.
Hopefully hearing about the things I wish I knew before our trip can help you better prepare before yours. Here are a few that stand out.
1. You Won’t Eat Many Vegetables
I was a vegetarian for seven years before this trip. When I realized Europe’s version of vegetables was a broiled carrot, placed ever so gently on top a large pile of sausage and mashed potatoes—I said, “Eh, I’m in Europe, let’s just do it!” (No, I’m not a vegetarian anymore.)
Interesting to consider that Southern Europe has higher produce supplies than the north, and were smack dab in the middle of the two.
2. Europeans Don’t Eat Breakfast
At least not like us, and it was different at every stop. In Paris, we noshed on ham and cheese sandwiches and chocolate croissants; in Germany we had Camembert cheese and jam on toast and in Luxembourg they served us a hard boiled egg and ham. Most mornings we cooked breakfast ourselves (We stayed in Air BnB’s the whole time!) because we prefer something simpler: eggs, fruit and toast.
3. Stockholm is really Cold in September
Actually, everywhere was cold during that September trip! My husband and I took just a backpack each, and I would have made the most of the little packing space I had, bringing more pants and jackets, and less “cute summer clothes.” Now I have a gorgeous leather jacket from a Paris thrift store to show for it—And let’s be honest, I’m not upset about that unexpected necessary purchase.
4. Speaking the Language DOES Help
Neither my husband nor I brushed up on any languages. We’d both learned French in grade school and high school, but remember none of it. I wish we would have brushed up on our French, which I later found out is the most widely spoken language in Europe —if only to appease the very proud Parisians, who are not so quick to speak in English, even if they can.
5. Getting to Oktoberfest Freakishly Early Does Help
The highlight of our trip was out first-ever visit to Munich’s one and only Oktoberfest; in fact, we planned the rest of our trip around it. We arrived, by ourselves, at what we thought was an early time: 8am.
No—the tent we were waiting for was already packed full, and we had to walk around begging people to let us sit at their table (for a solid 30 minutes) because you only get beer if you’re sitting. Luckily, we found a table that accepted us and had the most unforgettable experience.
6. You MUST Wear Proper Attire to Oktoberfest
And you won’t find anything in Munich for less than $150 the day before. My husband was able to find Lederhosen, but I couldn’t find a Dirndl anywhere. Luckily, we made friends with two other gentlemen the night before who happened to get their hands on one that fit me perfectly—miraculously.
They brought it to me after I’d already arrived, and I managed to change in the bathroom with the help of 15 other girls who zipped this corset-tight dress onto me.
7. Always Be Observing
This is not something we thought about before we left, but quickly realized was critical to staying in the know when you don’t speak the language. On our train ride from Munich to Luxembourg, the train broke down. Everyone started funneling out of the cars, but we didn’t speak the language, and therefore couldn’t understand what was being said on the loud speaker.
Thankfully, there was a Good Samaritan who saw the confusion in our eyes and filled us in on what was going on.
Europe was amazing, a trip we’ll never forget. Luckily, most of the things we didn’t know beforehand about didn’t put us in danger. But I do wish I knew that French is spoken in many European countries and that finding proper attire for Oktoberfest should be done weeks in advance, not the night before.