Let me start off by saying that I am completely under-qualified for posting a blog about traveling in Europe. What I do think I am capable of is writing about my experiences and what I learned from being a first time, almost completely self-dependent traveler on a different continent; you are invited to take advice from some things and laugh at others. Everything which follows is derived from my various experiences here so they are products of actual events that can happen, and might apply to others as well.
Tip 1: Always take the time to figure out/translate/ask questions about the directions at an airport for the metro or bus system. Taxis are incredibly more expensive and if you pay using a ticket machine your driver won’t slip a 10 euro bill from under his leg, switch it with the 50 you gave him, and try to convince you that you’re 40 euros short … Katie’s mom thankfully was having NONE of that.
Tip 2: Booking a bus seat for 12:30 in the morning may feel like you’re leaving at the end of that day, but it’s actually super early the following morning. Make sure the ticket is the date of the next morning, or you’ll be standing at the bus stop with your luggage in the middle of the city after realizing you were actually booked to leave 24 hours ago.
Tip 3: When you’re walking past aggressive street salesmen, never ask how much an item is for the heck of it. They will continue to follow and pester you with questions for 5 minutes and multiple blocks of walking … and then show off their profane English knowledge when they give it up.
Tip 4: For guys, I highly recommend wearing a jacket with an inside, zippered pocket to keep your wallet (and passport if you need to have it on you at the time) when traveling in a big city known for pickpockets like Rome or Barcelona. After having constant reminders to look out when walking in Rome, it added a lot of stress to constantly keep tabs on my pockets while trying to explore. Keeping it in this safe pocket frees you of worry, and makes your adventure much more enjoyable, guaranteed.
Tip 5: As once said by my new hero, a wise, dry-humored history grad student who spends his time giving tours in Rome, “Turn your back to a tourist attraction, and walk 3 blocks once it is no longer visible. The food will be 3 euros cheaper and 3 times as good.” Tourist traps only need to catch customers once, so they charge you a lot and don’t care if you return or not so it’s expensive and poor quality.
Tip 6: Sleeping overnight in an airport is possible, and an extremely cheap option when your connection doesn’t board until the next morning; however, the seating will be poor, the lights will be on, and you’ll randomly wake up to a group of security spectators who are debating whether you’re a weary traveler … or a homeless person.
Tip 7: Ask if the drinks are complimentary on the plane before opening the 5 euro mini-can of Pepsi.
Tip 8: If you’re meeting someone in Spain, respond to the “Madrid or Barca” soccer question by asking who they are for, and then saying, “me too.” You make a lot more friends that way.
Tip 9: Find yourself a cousin of your own or traveling companions with a good position in a hotel in Rome and you might have some champagne brought to your room.
Traveling to and exploring these incredible cities was a privilege and one of the greatest experiences in my life. I have to say though, I always found myself excited to get back to Valladolid, which I now comfortably call my home away from home. I will remember it fondly and miss it dearly as we soon fly home for the holidays.