6 things South Africans need to know before travelling to Europe

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The time has come. That Euro trip you’ve always dreamed about is just a few clicks away and you’ve managed to find the most economical flights possible using Cheapflights.co.za. You’ve saved as many precious randelas as you’ve had to spare, and the excitement is palpable. But, dear first-time Euro traveller, we think there are a few things you should know before you visit. Interested? Then keep reading.

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1. Expensive is relative

If you’re planning a trip to Europe, the horrendous exchange rate is guaranteed to be a topic of discussion around the dinner table. And for good reason. For as long as most of us can remember, the rand has performed poorly in relation to the pound and the euro. Saying that, certain things, like clothing, are an exception to this rule. In Europe, you’ll find the crowd-favourites – H&M, Zara, Topshop and Next. The prices will be similar to those you can expect at their South African counterparts, except you’ll find clothing that’s a season ahead. Bonus. Sometimes, things will even be cheaper. Grocery stores in the UK always have irresistible 2 for 1 specials that will save you a few pounds. Eating out is where things can get expensive. Currently, a cappuccino in South Africa will cost you around R25. In Italy, the damage will be around R40. In London, it will set you back R60. In Switzerland, be prepared to fork out R70. Yikes!

2. Prepare for the weather

In South Africa’s major cities, you can generally get away with wearing jeans and a tee and packing in a jacket in preparation for a chilly evening, at any time of year. In Europe though, things can get a lot more extreme. In South Africa, temperatures do drop dramatically on occasion, but in parts of  Europe the cold weather is that much more vicious. During colder seasons, the wind feels like it’s infused with icicles. It has a way of finding any exposed piece of skin and laying siege to it. Don’t underestimate it. Then there’s the heat. Unless you’re a Durbanite, you simply won’t be prepared for the level of humidity that places like Italy or Spain experience in summer. If you know you’re heading into the heat, pack light, flowy clothing that will minimize the stickiness. It will save you needing to dash from store to store, in pursuit of good aircon.

3. English is not so universal

If most of your travels have been centred on Africa or the Americas, you may be under the assumption that the world speaks and understands English. Indeed many would consider it to be the lingua franca of the world. And it is. But that doesn’t mean that non-native speakers will choose to use it, and when they do, it might be begrudgingly. Travel to places like France and Switzerland and you may find that the locals prefer you to try your best to communicate with them in their local tongue. Even if you walk from shop to shop, guidebook in hand, blurting out a few, odd mispronounced words, that’s often good enough to break the ice. Invest in a good translation app or use a guidebook and try your best to memorise a few phrases and words like “please” and “thank you.” It will go a long way.

4. Sightseeing takes time

If you’re one of those travellers who feverishly makes a list of the top attractions, trying to pack as much into a day as possible, you best pack some energy drinks and a generous dose of patience. The fact is, everyone has the same ideas. Everyone wants to visit Harrods and Madame Tussauds, the Eiffel Tower and the Milan Cathedral, so long queues are an unfortunate reality. You may spend the majority of your day waiting in long queues in the freezing cold or sweltering heat just to say that you visited one of the top European attractions. Holiday burnout is real. At the end of the day, if seeing a city is about seeing its top attractions, then go for it. But if for you, it’s about experiencing the culture, blending with the locals and finding hidden gems, then skip the queues and sidestep the tourist traps. It may be much more worth your while to choose one main attraction a day and then spend the rest of it just browsing your surrounds, casually taking in the European atmosphere.

5. Punctuality isn’t always to be expected

Depending on where you are in Europe, transport will massively differ. In the UK, public transport like trains, buses and the iconic London underground, are much more efficient than us South Africans may be used to. And it’s generally cleaner than any other kind of public transport you’ll find in South Africa, which is a big plus. Head to some areas of southern or eastern Europe however, and transport may require a bit of patience. Many parts of Greece and Spain work on Mediterranean time, and that means buses, boats and trains might not depart exactly when they say they are going to.

6. Airbnb is the way to go

Hotel rooms in Europe are relatively smaller than those you will find at South African destinations, and generally, hotel accommodation will cost you a pretty penny. Obviously, the best way to travel is to cut your accommodation costs as much as possible. Remember that friend you lost contact with when he moved to Stockholm? It’s time to reconnect. Alternatively, you can find some really great accommodation options on Airbnb for the same price as a hotel room but with more space and possibly better amenities like stable Wi-Fi and easy access to the inner city. It’s especially economical if you’re travelling in a group of 4 or more – there are some good deals out there if you split the cost. Do your research well in advance – a bit of preparation will save you time and money.

6 things South Africans need to know before travelling to Europe was last modified: April 10th, 2019 by Renee Fortune