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Tips for Travelers

This page contains a number of suggestions for those traveling to Central Europe for business or pleasure. Readers may wish to consult additional sources, be they on the Internet or in print, about the topics that appear here. To navigate this page, click on the topic desired in the “Contents” box. At the end of each segment is a “Back to Top” tile.

What to Bring When Traveling in Europe

small umbrella
jacket (layer if weather is very cold, which can occur on rainy days and in evenings)
hat (for rain, cold, and sun)
very good walking shoes (no high heels) or perhaps two pairs of shoes (consider discarding one pair at the end of the tour)
semi-formal dress--a simple dress or a nice pair of pants and a dress shirt or blouse--for a special dinner or concert
several receptacle adapters if the electronic appliance is 110∼220V, such as:
power adapter or transformer (if electronics are not 110∼220V or 220V), such as:
back pack (eliminates carrying items; old or inexpensive back packs do not attract attention)
powder soap for laundry, such as Forever New Fabric Care Wash, available at Dillards, outlets on line, or at
pouch for concealing money and passport
ATM card with international affiliates, such as PLUS or CYRRUS (see credit cards)
credit cards (Visa is most common; Master Card is less frequent; American Express acceptance is rare, aside from some large or exclusive merchants)
bathing suit and goggles
sun screen
sun glasses
granola bars
empty plastic drink bottle (a bottle of water in a back pack can be a life saver in the middle of a hot, sunny day)
camera (see Photographic Equipment below)
city maps
tour books (some books cover more than just the center of a city, so save weight by taking only photocopies of the pertinent pages)
pocket foreign-language dictionaries or phrase books
pocket knife
pocket flashlight
bug spray
with 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) when planning on being in wooded areas
clothing protected with
permethrin as an added deterrent to insects in wooded areas

What to Avoid Putting in The Luggage

flip flops, unless required for hotel use (lengthy walking in flip flops is exhausting)
high-heeled shoes, which will get stuck in the cobble stone sidewalks
t-shirts with American flags or anything that would call attention to American citizens (this is merely a precaution in the post-9/11 age)

Language Barriers

While it is true that English has become somewhat of a universal language and that most tourists in the larger cities of any European country will encounter no difficulties using English, there are a few tricks to get the courteous service and helpful assistance one desires.  The tourists whose only language is English will win the sympathy of the native speaker if they begin any inquiry with: "Pardon, I do not speak insert language, do you speak English?"  Speaking clearly and slowly is advised, but raising one's voice sends the wrong signals since someone who may not speak a language or understand it well is not necessarily hard of hearing.  If the tourist speaks another language--say, Icelandic--attempt approaching someone with the following question: "Pardon, do you speak Icelandic or English?  I do not speak insert language."  An even more effective approach is to learn how to say one of these introductory phrases (and perhaps a few more) in each of the languages used at each destination.  Write these phrases on a piece of paper and read them.  Have no fear of making mistakes.  After all, most Europeans have learned at least one foreign language, and many continue to acquire bits and pieces of languages throughout their lives.  They are accustomed to foreigners attempting to speak their language and being foreigners speaking others' languages.  Most likely, the response will be in near-perfect English: "Yes, I speak English.  May I help you?"

Contacting Others While in Europe

Mobile phones go everywhere, but using an American-based mobile phone in Europe to place calls to the United States or even to call another person on the tour, even if that person is standing only a few meters away, can be terribly expensive.  Be sure to check the services and fees of the various providers to avoid charges that can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars.  It is best to turn off data services, but depending on an individual's plan, one might be able to use Wi-Fi hot spots to contact others for free.  There are two methods of staying in touch through the Internet.  The first is to use the computers that most hotels make available to their guests, usually for no fee.  The second is to find an Internet café, order a cup of coffee, and pay the reasonable fee for using the Internet and for printing (always check the charges before logging on to the Internet).  Phone providers have various services for travelers, and one should contact their phone company for more information.  Purchasing a SIM card for calls within a country in Europe is relatively inexpensive, but one must install it in a phone that is unlocked.


Many small restaurants do not have a host or hostesses, but as in America, some do, especially if there is a podium near the door.  Usually, a host or hostess immediately will approach someone who enters.  If a casual restaurant is crowded and there is room at an occupied table, you may be seated with another individual or group.  If there is no host or hostess and the restaurant is crowded, approaching those seated at a table to ask if the space at their table is available is acceptable.  If they say it is not free because they may be waiting for others in their group, simply be gracious and thank them.  When a table has a sign that reads "reserve," it is reserved for a group, and it is unavailable.

In a casual restaurant, a waiter may place a small sheet of paper on the table with hatches for the type of beverages and food the guests order.  Do not disturb the paper.  Waiters frequently will not check on a table unless the guests attempt to make eye contact with the waiter (combining eye contact with a very subtle hand gesture to call a waiter is an art).  At the end of the meal, the guest signals to the waiter and indicates that he or she is ready to pay.  The head waiter will arrive to calculate the bill.  When he states the amount, the guest must mentally add the tip to the amount, present the currency, and state aloud the total amount to be paid, that is, the cost of the food and the tip together.  Tips generally range from 10 to 15 percent and usually are rounded.  For example, a bill of € 25.50 should have a tip of approximately €3.50 for a total of €29.00.  Adding €1.00 more for a total of €30.00 would be appropriate for exceptional service.  If an individual in a group orders extra drinks or a desert and will pay separately, even though the rest of the meal is covered in the price of a tour, the individual is responsible for adding the tip on to the amount they pay.  Under no circumstances should the guest leave a tip on the table.  It likely never will get to the wait staff.  Note that waiters will not split the tab for individuals at a table.  Remember the cost of the food when examining the menu and work out the financial details either before calling the waiter to pay or after paying.

Food and Beverages

While in Europe, try some of the local fare.  Afterward, buy a cook book in English at a local book store and take a bit of Europe home!

What to Drink

Germany -- beer and Jägermeister (a herbal liqueur)
Czech Republic -- beer (Bernard, Budvar, Gambrinus, Krušovice, Pilsner Urquell, Radegast, Starobrno, Staropramen, Svijany, and
          Velkopopovický Kozel), Becherovka (a herbal liqueur), Fernet Stock (another herbal liqueur that also comes in flavors, such as citrus),
          and turka or turecká káva (Turkish coffee--do not drink the grinds!)
Austria -- Gösser beer and Einspänner (coffee served in a glass with whipped cream)
Slovakia -- Demänovka (a herbal liqueur), borovička (similar to gin), and slivovice (plumb brandy)
Hungary -- Tokaji wine (made with grapes that have noble rot) and Unicum (a herbal liqueur)

What to Eat

Germany -- Bratwurst, Spätzle, and Apfelstrudel.
Czech Republic -- Vepřo-knedlo-zelo (pork, dumplings, and cabbage), svíčková na smetaně (beef with vegetable and sour cream sauce), řízek
          (Wienerschnitzel), knedliky (dumplings sliced like bread--do not make a sandwich from them), palačinky (crêps), and závin (strudel)
Austria -- Wienerschnitzel, Tafelspitz (boiled beef--assumed to be Franz Joseph’s favorite), Spätzle, Germknödel (a large plumb dumpling),
          Kaiserschmarrn (pancake bits originally made for Franz Joseph and named after the emperor), Mozartkugeln (see What to Buy in Central
          Europe below), Sachertorte (a chocolate cake, see, Apfelstrudel
Slovakia -- halušky (similar to Spätzle) with brinza (sheep cheese), pirohy (pierogi), halupky (cabbage rolls)
Hungary -- gyümölcsleves (cold fruit soup--usually cherry), gulyás (gulash)

Taking Tours and Visiting Museums, Castles, Palaces, and Other Interiors

Many museums and other buildings do not permit tourists to have back packs or coats.  In such instances, the individual will have to check these items. Try to place everything in the back pack instead of checking things individually, and be sure that cameras and glass has appropriate padding.  The visitor will receive a ticket with a number that will identify their belongings upon departure.  There may be a small fee for the service, but if there is none, it is customary to leave a tip (€ 0.50-1.00 for a back pack is reasonable).  See Photographic Equipment below for photographing interiors.  If a visit involves a tour guide who is remarkably informative and helpful, consider giving the person a small tip of €1.00-2.00.  When taking a tour that takes the major part of a day and involves various locations in a city, it is customary to tip the guide.  The amount depends on how long and involved the tour is, but for anything over a couple of hours, consider a tip of at least €5.00 per person.  "Free" tours exist in all cities, and while the guides usually are students who claim they conduct the tours because they enjoy contact with people or because they wish to improve their English language skills, they expect a donation or tip at the end of the tour.

Photographic Equipment

Given the cost of air fare, travel abroad is a unique opportunity for most.  Why not save the memories with excellent photographs?  A camera on a mobile phone might provide the perfect opportunity to take a snap shot, but it is no substitute for a camera, even many of the inexpensive ones.  The lenses on mobile phone cameras are small, and their zooms function digitally rather than optically.  Consider investing in a camera with a good wide-angle lens and good telephoto capability.  Purchase a quality, name-brand flash card to insure that it has a reasonably long life, and make sure it has a large capacity.  Photographing will become addicting.  Unless one has a computer to download images, it will be necessary to have a number of flash cards.

Those who still enjoy using 35 mm equipment will want to purchase enough film before beginning traveling.  Not only is the cost of film abroad likely to be more expensive, it is hard to find retail outlets for 35 mm film, and those who carry film may not have the ISO or the type of film required.  Purchase a lead bag for the film and keep it in the carry-on luggage because the x-ray equipment for the checked luggage is quite powerful.  Make sure to take some high-speed film for interiors and night photography.

Some cameras have interchangeable lenses, and it is advisable to either bring a zoom lens or several lenses.  For digital cameras, a zoom of 18 to 70 mm is acceptable.  For those with 35 mm equipment, consider a zoom lens from 28 mm to 135 mm or individual lenses: a wide-angle lens of 28 mm and a moderate telephoto lens of 135 mm in addition to a normal lens.  For either digital or film cameras, a fish eye lens will be useful for photographing buildings of moderate height--30-50 feet--that are on narrow streets.  Strong telephoto lenses can be useful for details on taller buildings and for shots in the countryside.

If there are signs prohibiting photographs, do not attempt to take any pictures.  Some interiors permit photos, but none permit flash.  Other locations may charge a small fee for interior photography, and the person with the camera will have to carry a special ticket or wear a small badge to indicate that they have paid the fee.

Avoiding Scams and Thefts

When traveling in Europe for business or pleasure, an individual should observe the same precautions they would exercise in the United States.  Do not travel with large amounts of cash or valuables.  Do not wear expensive clothing or carry designer handbags or backpacks that suggest wealth or status.  Do not carry bulging wallets in back pockets.  At night, stay in well-lit areas, and if possible, do not walk alone at night in less frequented streets or parks.  Do not stop to give alms to beggars, even if they are young children or aged, or help supposedly stranded individuals, especially if the act of charity involves rooting through a handbag or wallet to get the donation.  Frequently, those who seem to be alone actually are working with another, and the second person is waiting for a chance to nab a wallet or purse and flee.  Shell games, card games, and deals from peddlers on the streets that seem too good to be true are just that--do not get involved.  Be particularly cautious in crowds gathering to watch street musicians or some sort of calamity (often staged) because such situations can serve as distractions for pickpocketers.  Crowded trams (like Tram 22 in Prague, often referred to as the "pickpocket express") and metros are operating grounds for thieves.  Do not hesitate to take such public transportation, but stay alert.  Purses hanging on the backs of chairs or backpacks on floors in restaurants are hard for thieves to resist, but they are unlikely to disturb a purse that is on one's lap or a backpack that is between one's legs (one alternative to protect a backpack on a floor is to put a leg through one or both of the shoulder straps).  Do not under any circumstances change money with individuals on the streets.  They may offer rates that are better than those in the banks, but it is just a way to cheat tourists by giving them counterfeit currency or by using slight-of-hand tricks.  Prevention is simple: conceal the location of valuables, stay alert, look at nearby people, and appear confident.  Remember these rules, even when among a group of friends.  Petty criminals are less likely to prey on individuals who do not take on the demeanor of victims.  These are simple suggestions that make anyone street smart and are nothing new to the individual who has done even a limited amount of domestic travel, but somehow people often forget them when traveling abroad.

The Canadian government has an excellent web site with an interactive map that provides travel advice and warnings located at"Current Travel Warnings" from the United States Department of State are at

Legal Matters

It is not necessary to carry a passport at all times, and it is not wise to do so.  A stolen passport means valuable time lost.  Keep in mind that hotels usually take passports to register guests and return them the next day.  This is an absolutely normal procedure.  Always observe local lawsDo not assume that drug laws are liberal throughout Europe.  Never ride public transportation without paying, do not litter, and be careful about crossing streets.  While jaywalking may be common in a place like Prague, Bratislava, or Budapest, provided that there is no policeman in sight, it never is acceptable in Berlin and other German cities.  The Austrian custom is somewhere between the two extremes.  When in doubt, wait for the light or follow the crowd.  A valid US driver's license plus a valid US passport is enough to drive in most countries, but it is necessary to become familiar with road signs and laws before getting behind the wheel on the Continent.  What will confuse most American drivers is the concept of main road, where the drivers have the right of way, and secondary road, where the drivers have to yield.  Signs indicate some of the confusing intersections, but unlike America, where the size or quality of the road is an indicator of who has the right of way, the situation in Europe is different.  What many would consider an improved cow path entering into a well-paved two-lane highway may well be a main road.  Frequently, where Americans would post stop signs or four-way stop signs, Europeans employ yield signs and signs indicating that the driver is on a main road.

What to Buy in Central Europe

No matter where one travels in Central Europe, there are plenty of things to purchase as souvenirs or gifts.  In each country, one will find such items as porcelain and glass products, table linens, food and alcohol (consider US customs rules), Christmas ornaments, tableware, kitchen gadgets, jewelry and hand-crafted jewelry, new picture books, old books and post cards, paintings and works from street artists, military memorabilia in specialty and antique stores, nativity scenes, and clocks.  For the music lover, CDs are an excellent choice, whether one’s preference is for classical music (look for the releases of the national and local orchestras of the countries on the itinerary) or hard-to-find CDs of ambient music and other genre that are released only in the native country of the artist.  Some specific items and suggestions for several countries appear below.

Germany -- wood carvings, Christmas ornaments, felt hats, clocks, beer steins, Hummel figurines, Volksmarsch walking sticks, and Steiff teddy bears

Wood carvings, Christmas ornaments, felt hats, and beer steins are traditional gifts from Germany, as are the famous Hummel figurines (  A bit unusual is the Volksmarsch walking stick that any avid hiker would cherish.  Many think that Berlin is named for bears, even though the original name of the city is from the West Slavic root word for swamp (berl).  As a result, purchasing a bear as a souvenir of Berlin is traditional, especially as a gift for children.  For the famous Steiff collection, see

Czech Republic -- cut glass, Moser glass, porcelain, garnets, vltavín (moldavite), and amber

When purchasing hand-cut glass, it must contain lead (look for the chemical symbol Pb on a small label on the item in most cases), and the edges of the cut should feel somewhat sharp.  If not, the glass is mass-produced by pressing and has little value.  Moser stemware and glass ( is some of the most elegant glass for the table that is available.  Porcelain table ware with onions is a traditional motif in Bohemia that the Sudeten Germans popularized.  There are two native semi-precious stones in Bohemia.  Garnets (granáty) are set in silver, gold, and gold-plated silver, and they are available throughout the republic, especially in the larger cities.  Some are imported from China, but when purchasing garnets from a Granát Turnov ( outlet, one can count on Czech quality.  Older garnets available in antique stores usually are darker because that type was more valued in the past.  Antique settings in original Secession styles are breathtaking.   Vltavín (also known as moldavite) is a green crystal that is only found in the southern part of Bohemia and is from a meteor impact.  These stones usually are not polished but are set as they are found.  One can purchase them in reputable shops, but craftsmen also sell them on the streets at reasonable prices.  The size, appearance, and setting determine the price.  Amber comes from the Baltic region, and the shops that sell amber jewelry in Prague usually are in the hands of Russians and Ukrainians (listen for the differences in the sound of the languages).  Ambers with whole bugs are very expensive, and those with parts of bugs are a bit cheaper.  The least expensive but just as beautiful are those with fewer inclusions.  Amber can be yellowish or orange in its natural state, but firing the amber turns it green.

Austria -- felt hats and other folk items, Loden clothing, Giesswein wool clothing and other products, Mozartkugeln, Swarovski crystal, Riedl glassware, Secession reproductions.

Traditional Austrian Loden clothing is made of fine wool, and one company that manufactures it is Giesswein (  Mozartkugeln are round candies with a pistachio marzipan core contained within a nougat and covered in chocolate.  The Fürst candy shop ( in Salzburg first made them in the late nineteenth century, but copies abound.  Swarovski crystal jewelry ( is world famous, as is Riedl glassware for wines (  For those who are in Vienna on a Saturday and enjoy flea markets, make sure to visit the Flohmarkt at Naschmarkt near metro U4 Kettenbruckengasse (Mariahilf) between 6:30 am and 6:30 pm.

Slovakia -- cut glass, porcelain, folk items (musical instruments, wooden toys and other products, lace, table cloths)

The best place to find a variety of folk items from all over Slovakia is in the small shops in the center of Bratislava.  Typical in terms of musical wind instruments are the double flutes and the fujara, which is a specifically Slovak instrument shepherds played as their flocks grazed in the hills.  Unfortunately, a fujara is about four to five feet long and will present a problem on the plane, but it is possible to fly with one.  A smaller fujara is available, but it is made only for tourists.  Whether buying a fujara or not, consider purchasing a CD of haunting fujara music.  For a discussion of cut glass, see the information about the Czech Republic.

Hungary -- cut glass, folk items (linens, wooden products), and different types of paprika

The buildings that line Váci út in downtown Budapest offer a wealth of products in small shops and well-known chains.  Otherwise, there will be stands throughout Budapest with women who have spent the winter making table cloths and other items to sell in the summer.  Similarly, there is an abundance of wooden items–toys, chess sets, vases, and the like.  For a discussion of cut glass, see the information about the Czech Republic.  In Budapest, consider a trip to the Grand Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok), also known as the Central Market (Központi Vásárcsarnok) on Vámház körút 1-3, open Monday, 6:00 am-5:00 pm, Tuesday through Friday 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Saturday 6:00 to 2:00 pm.  This fantastic farmer's market in a marvelous neo-Romanesque building with Hungarian motifs is great for sampling local cuisine and finding some unusual gifts.  Try to determine how many different types of paprika are available.

The Ambassadorial Tourist

It often happens that tourists from any country encounter a bit of culture shock, and those who are observant and keep an open mind to the customs of other societies serve as ambassadors of their own country to those places they visit.  A typical example is ice.  Some Europeans complain bitterly about the amount of ice Americans get in their drinks--it is unhealthy to drink cold things, the restaurant is cheating on the amount of soft drink they deliver by filling the cup with ice (no matter that the syrup is more intense in the US than in countries where drinks have no ice), and nobody can negotiate the ice in order to drink properly.  Meanwhile, certain Americans complain about the lack of ice in Europe and balk at drinking something warm, including times when Europeans consider a beverage to be pleasantly chilled.  Even the seasoned traveler may encounter an embarrassing situation, and the faux pas of the past are the subject of many entertaining conversations over a cool (American: warm) beer in a local Gasthaus.

Frequently, published guide books and Internet guides reference some of the idiosyncrasies of various cultures.  Even if one does not have time to do much homework in advance, the best thing to do is to be observant of the behavior of the inhabitants of a locale and attempt to blend into the crowd.  When mistakes occur, simply turn on the charm and use that international phrase for begging forgiveness: Pardon!

This American Life from WBEZ
The 15 December 2000 airing of This American Life on public radio titled Three Kinds of Deception featured three separate segments: a story about self-deception, one deceiving others, and a third about accidental deception.  Each of the stories demonstrated how one type of deception can become another.

The third segment featured David Sedaris reading a story he wrote about a subway ride he had taken with his French friend in Paris. First, he encountered a group from Texas.  Then, two American tourists talked about Sedaris, thinking he was a smelly French pickpocketer and assuming he did not speak English.  As the description on the web site of This American Life states, Sedaris "starts off hating this but comes to enjoy it."

David Sedaris reads from Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) on This American Life, with host Ira Glass.  Duration: 12 minutes.

In his book Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), the American writer David Sedaris wrote about being on the Parisian Metro and observing four tourists from Houston, Texas.  He switched trains and encountered an American couple who mistake him for being a French pickpocketer.  Through the humor, Sedaris shows how some Americans stand out in Europe in negative ways.  Not all Americans have the reputation about which Sedaris writes.  In fact, high on the list of some Europeans as being the worst tourists are fellow Europeans, including boisterous groups English men on bachelor weekends and gaggles of loud German tourists.  In the clip to the right, Sedaris reads the passage about the Metro ride on This American Life.

Exploring foreign cultures is not challenging when the tourist or the foreign business traveler keeps an open mind and is observant.  In many respects, sorting out the culture of each destination is every bit as entertaining as viewing the architecture or sampling the food.