10 Survival Tips for Summer Travel to Europe

 The Danube flows through 10 countries but not in the Czech Republic.  Here's how to remember this is the Vltava (aka Moldau), bank in Prague. (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

The Danube flows through 10 countries but not in the Czech Republic.  Here's how to remember this is the Vltava (aka Moldau), bank in Prague. (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - As the world warms and terrorism threatens, traveling overseas appeals less to those who already risk carjacking, robbery or sexual assault and face all sorts of prejudice every day in their very own country.

The cost of wanderlust rises as security tightens in borders, making globe-trotting a luxury.

But there's nothing like travel to open minds, cultivate empathy and understanding therefore kindness, compassion and gratitude, as we personally witness how and why fellow humans live as they do in the countries of their birth or choice.  So airports buzz, tourism thrives.

Whether backpacking and roughing it, bunking with friends or family, joining a group tour or flying first class, exploring makes the strange ordinary, the formidable accessible.

To enjoy journeying overseas is to pack, wander and engage wisely.  Prepare physically and mentally for wonderment.  Consider these tips from our recent fortnight in Central Europe before heading off on the next trip:

1. Learn about the destination.
Is unrest brewing?  Maybe you're better off jetting elsewhere. Since we were visiting five countries, we had much net surfing to do. Last year we strolled around the Greek mainland at the height of protest against national debt bailout conditions, but life--and our tour--went on without a hitch.

Last month, we glimpsed the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, knowing they transact in their own currency despite being members of the European Union.  Had we not known, we might have entered Austria with a hundred thousand forints, the Hungarian currency that's about 377.14 ft to 1 euro.

Think thrice before handing a big bill for a couple of refrigerator magnets, often made by the world's biggest mass producer on another continent.

2.  Assume nothing.
That's my mantra, and it helps particularly when I'm far from home.  Have open mind and heart; will be fine. Think you'll get free bread with your meal? Bottomless tap water?  Especially where the Danube flows and pristine resource flows from the Alps, water costs more than wine and beer, so be ready to pay for extras.

Don't fret if they don't smile back, like the way your U.S. compatriots interact in public. Recognize that freedom and trust are a novelty for residents of the former Iron Curtain, hence their cold gaze.  Feel free to initiate human connection, though, and thaw the encounter with a smile. Think everyone speaks English?  Don't assume that locals will bother to understand and respond to your query in your studied American accent.

 Criselda Rhinewald, who  rings up hungry tourists at seafood chain Nordsee in Vienna, hails from Pampanga. (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

Criselda Rhinewald, who  rings up hungry tourists at seafood chain Nordsee in Vienna, hails from Pampanga. (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

3.  Use local greetings and terms.
Break the ice with a friendly greeting on the street or in a shop.  It makes a huge difference in getting a response to a question, especially if you're lost or looking for the WC, as their "water closets" are labeled ala the Brits (not "Women's Comfort," as a co-traveler thought.) In Prague, say “Ahoj!” (ahoya!);  In Budapest, “Szia!” (like the Italian Ciao!) Austrians exchange "Gruss Gott" for (God greet you), while Germans trade a simple "Hallo!" or "Guten Morgen" (by day) or "Guten Aben" (at sundown).  Their catch-all "Bitte" is the counterpart of the Philippine "paki" or “sige.”

4.  Expect unsolicited advice.
Well-meaning friends volunteer tips perhaps to travel vicariously or out of genuine concern.
Caution I thought I could do without came from a friend who had never been to Europe.  Recent attacks in and near Munich seem to belie the import of that warning, especially to us who commuted by train to the Bavarian capital around that time.  Then again the assaults in Orlando and San Bernardino are lessons in mindfulness of surroundings and prudence anywhere.  

"Germany?  That country has the most (Muslim) refugees.  Be careful," he warned, sounding almost like a pesky presidential wannabe.

 Bavarians Candy and Manfred Rauh venture to  Marienplatz in Munich weeks before the attacks. (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

Bavarians Candy and Manfred Rauh venture to  Marienplatz in Munich weeks before the attacks. (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

Prejudice and paranoia stem from ignorance.  I informed my zealous friend that a Bavarian relative in fact headed a refugee center and promptly changed the subject.  That friend will know that on our homebound flight my seatmate was a 25-year-old permanent U.S. resident from Turkey who had visited with his family.  He reminded me of our son who would chat up a stranger.  Maybe I reminded him of his mom because he turned to me to find out why he was getting no connection on his phone, an older model than the 6c he said he had left with his Dad in Istanbul.  I pulled and handed the instructions from the pouch in front of his seat, and sparked a conversation.

Do you like (Turkey President) Erdogan, I switched to reporter mode.  He shook his head, lapsed into his home government atrocities and praised his contemporaries for successfully protesting demolition of a historic site for a mall.

The proud young Turk slept most of the flight, skipped meals, never once rose from his window seat to pass over me and Mickey, so we didn't get to exchange names.

The IT worker did get to share his dream of earning a master's degree and asked about requirements.  His colleagues at a Walnut Creek firm are multinational, he said, noting that his supervisor is a Filipina from the Philippines.

Hard to think of him plotting against my country.

5.  Mind the season.
Always have an umbrella, raincoat or jacket in spring and fall.  Climate change demands readiness.

We Daly City residents glisten when the temperature teeters toward 65 (around 16 Celsius in metric Europe).  We did check the weather app but paid for doubting the average 80-degree Fahrenheit forecast for Prague, Bratislava and Budapest.  The yoga gear I'd packed became dead weight throughout our sizzling holiday.

6.  Make friends.
One of the pleasures of joining a tour group is meeting people who share your sense of adventure.

We like how our group tour always begins with a mixer for introductions.  Some 20 years ago, this occurred over drinks and chips; lately dinner follows.

This time we were the only Californians among fellow travelers from the U.S. East Coast and Midwest, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Singapore and the Philippines. As always, we Americans tended to be loud and assertive, and isn't that typical?  We also happened to be the first to offer seats at our table, speak up when others were too proper or shy to express themselves.

So it was not surprising that Danielle, the New Jersey doctor of physical therapy, introduced herself and explained to Ofie Crucillo of Parañaque how to use her walking stick appropriately.  The retired PH Supreme Court employee was traipsing Imperial Europe with daughters Carmela, a department manager at Coca-Cola, and Dell, manager at Johnson & Johnson Manila. Remember: There are no strangers, only friendships waiting to be made.

 Parañaque residents Ofie Crucillo and daughters Carm and Dell bond with author in Budapest. (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

Parañaque residents Ofie Crucillo and daughters Carm and Dell bond with author in Budapest. (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

7.  Offer help.
We befriended Vijen and Priscilla Narasan of South Africa, who were seeing Europe for the first time.  We bonded instantly with the couple, who owned a car battery retail shop in Capetown.  We sought out each other at meals, promised to connect when at each other's hemisphere, learned about their country's Indian immigration journey from their personal history, and they our Filipino immigrant story; same with Vanessa, a customs officer in Australia, who was traveling with her mom, Faye. We agreed to take their picture as we caught them trying to take a selfie, which sparked a friendship.

 Fellow Filipina helps last-minute shoppers  at Frankfurt airport. (Photo by M. Z.  Moreno)

Fellow Filipina helps last-minute shoppers  at Frankfurt airport. (Photo by M. Z.  Moreno)

8.  Walk unbeaten paths.
Check out the landmarks and take endless photos, but do roam and see how locals live. Go marvel at Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg and have a snapshot by his statue, but skip that cafe on Main Street Jugenstrasse that tempts with cheap but burned quiche.  Buck the tide and drift by a hole-in-the-wall where a stream of Caucasians wait for a bite of pan-Asian food. Be sure to have a map.  Get one from your tour director, your hotel or the local tourism office, if not from your phone.
 

 Lost in translation in Bratislava (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

Lost in translation in Bratislava (Photo by M. Z. Moreno)

9.  Don't discuss politics, religion and gender.
Hot-button topics especially this election year can turn a vacation into a nightmare. Usually a non-American will pop the inevitable question:  What do you think of Trump?  Is the United States ready for a woman president? The best response is deflection: "Isn't this a fun vacation?  Too bad our Golden State Warriors failed to repeat. "If you're an advocate who won't be silenced, consider others' comfort.  Save your passionate opinion where it matters--on your media platform, your ballot, or legislative representative.

10. Document the journey.
Jetlag can make the past 14 days a blur. Make notes on your phone calendar; on the itinerary, if on a group tour. Take pictures of country border signs or city and street names to match with other snapshots because, after a while, the churches all look the same, and so do the main squares. Years from now you can look back at each odyssey and return, on your feet or in your mind.     


 Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno founded and directs ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment, an all-volunteer nonprofit dedicated to preventing family abuse through education. Visit www.allicekumares.com. For crisis intervention or information in the U.S., call National DV Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.


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