Being back in the midwest and neck-deep in 18 credits, it’s easy to remember all the wonderful things I miss about my semester in Europe. There are many wonderful parts of living in the United States, don’t get me wrong. The two that I missed the most had to be supermarkets and leggings-as-pants (and oh my God did I miss my dryer). However, in these categories, Europe definitely takes the cake.
Take note of the top nine perks you should definitely take advantage of in Europe before heading back to the land of stars and stripes!
The Drinking Culture (and Age)
It’s no secret that my friends and I took full advantage of the lowered drinking age in Europe. Even without the added excitement of newly legal drinking, the drinking culture in Europe is completely different than the United States. In general, it is looked upon more as an experience that is stretched out and enjoyed, compared to the American custom of pounding shots for the purpose of getting hammered.
First of all, American nightclubs are no match for European nightclubs. Not even close. We did a pub crawl in almost every city we visited and, even after spending a summer in New York City, I’ve never seen anything like that in the U.S. These nightclubs were enormous, had incredible DJ’s, often strobe lights and were always packed to the ceiling with dancing college kids. One of the biggest differences was the way people dressed. In the U.S., it’s very common to go to the bars, or even the clubs, dressed very casually. In European clubs, everyone was always dressed impeccably, and if you weren’t, you might not get in.
Secondly, let’s be honest, open-container laws are awesome. Funny enough, it was very uncommon to see locals drinking on the streets (and in a few countries it is illegal). Out of the places we visited it seemed to be most popular in Berlin. Our pub crawl tour guide actually told us that, in Berlin, it is considered rude to throw away your beer bottles in public trash cans. Instead, you’re supposed to set them down directly on the street for the homeless population to collect and exchange for money. In Paris, we observed locals and tourists alike sipping champagne underneath the Eiffel Tower. Oppositely, in Rome, everyone knew the only people taking advantage of this law were American tourists, but we still had a blast carrying our drinks right out of the club and drinking them down the street!
Minimal tipping at restaurants
There’s nothing a broke, hungry girl can appreciate more than not having to add an additional 20% onto your already hella-expensive dinner bill. European servers don’t depend almost entirely on tips like American servers do. Although it’s still appreciated to leave gratuity, a much smaller percentage is completely acceptable.
Unfortunately, this system means the service at some European restaurants is often half-assed. This is definitely not always true, I’ve had some amazing service at European restaurants as well. But unfortunately, when money isn’t on the line, there’s sometimes less incentive for politeness and speedy-service.
Cheap flights within Europe
Cheap flights are definitely up there on the list of things I miss most! It’s so much easier to travel from country-to-country in Europe than it is to travel between states in the U.S. Ryanair and Vueling had the cheapest fares and ended up being our go-to airlines, but even the fancier airlines, like Alitalia, sold much more affordable flights than the airlines in the U.S. I’d love to be able to travel and see more of my own country, but even a two-hour flight on a cheapo airline can cost hundreds of dollars.
We usually booked our flights a few weeks in advance, but I never paid more than €80 for a round-trip flight and we’d normally find them for around €50. However, at the end of our Spring Break trip, my Ryanair flight from Ibiza to Rome was €17. That was less than our dinner the night before!
Don’t even get me started on European food. I’m still daydreaming about meals I ate five months ago. For more mouthwatering details on European food, specifically Italian, check out my article When in Rome…EAT as the Romans do.
Wine and Beer
I definitely had my fill of these two during my semester abroad. I came to Italy knowing a lot about American beer, but that was pretty much it. The Italians had a lot to teach me when it came to wine, and Germans, the Czechs and the Austrians had much to teach me about beer.
My favorite wine, and the one I drank the most of in Rome, was Chianti. I’ve still been buying it back in Wisconsin because it reminds me so much of Italy. My second favorite was a Sangiovese that I would always buy from the local Italian grocery store. For €2 I didn’t feel bad about picking up a fresh bottle every other night (who am I kidding, every night).
I had a blast trying different local beers all over Europe. Surprisingly, even after trying local beers in ten different countries (Berlin, Prague and Vienna included) and countless cities, my favorite beers are still brewed in America. The Europeans brew some delicious beer, but the Americans ad more hops and I’m a huge fan of IPAs.
But just because Europe didn’t sell Hopalicious (my favorite Wisconsin beer), I was still lucky enough to taste some delicious brews. My two favorite beers abroad were Cisk from Malta and Alfa from Greece!
Fun Fact: the Italian word for “hops” is luppolo.
While at a wine tasting in Tuscany, we were served delicious pecorino cheese drizzled with fresh honey, and my taste buds still can’t get over it. Europeans definitely know their cheese and I definitely ate my fill of it.
There was nothing better than walking past a restaurant in Paris or Rome and getting hit in the face by the smell of fresh baked bread. I would specifically take one route to school every day just so I could walk past this restaurant whose bread smelled like Heaven opened a sandwich shop.
I promise I did more in Europe than just drink all the time. While I was abroad, I visited some of the world’s most famous museums. We have some very cool museums back in the States as well, but they’re just not quite on the same level.
My favorites included the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, the Louvre in Paris, Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, the Holocaust Museum in Berlin and the Gucci Museum in Florence.
Some of my favorite nights in Europe were spent in hostels. They’re the best way to meet fellow travelers and usually cost very little! At first, I was a little freaked out at the idea of staying in a dorm-style room with strangers. But after staying in at least ten different hostels abroad, I became very comfortable with it. Europe has much more of a hostel culture than the U.S. does (I doubt I would ever stay in a hostel in the States), so definitely take advantage of the cheap and fun lodging while you can!
A few tips for hostel living: make sure to bring your own padlock and your own towel if you can. Most hostels come with some sort of locker system, but most don’t come with the locks. Although most of the people staying with you are harmless travelers, you can never be too safe so make sure to lock up your passport, electronics, cash and any other valuables! Additionally, I purchased a microfiber towel before I left for Europe and took it on every trip I went on. Hostels can get away with charging high fees for towels because most travelers can’t fit them in their luggage. The microfiber towels take up barely any space in your suitcase and spare you the towel fees. For more packing tips, check out my article How to Pack for a Semester Abroad.
After staying in hostels all around Europe, three clear favorites emerged. Check them out below (all found on hostelworld.com)!
We spent four glorious days relaxing at Villa Manos in Santorini. By the time we left, the staff felt like family and it was all we could do to keep from staying another week. Our private room was clean, affordable and very spacious. Check out more about Villa Manos in my article Four Days in Santorini.
Marco Polo Hostel
Marco Polo Hostel was the most fun hostel we ever stayed at in Europe. We were in Malta for one of my good friend’s 21st birthdays and ended up hanging out on the rooftop bar for most of the night! We stayed in a very clean 8-bed dormitory and the beds all had their own little curtains, very nice to have a little privacy while you slept. For more on Marco Polo Hostel, check out my article Malta Bucket List.
Hostal Residencia Adelino
Hostal Residencia Adelino almost made up for us mistakenly planning our trip to Ibiza in the off-season. Although it was technically a hostel, it felt much more like a hotel. All of the rooms were private and definitely nicer than any other hostel we had experienced before (pictured below). The hostel also had a swimming pool and a small restaurant/bar on the first level. I would definitely stay at Hostel Adelino again!
Wherever Europeans go, they go in style. Especially living in Italy, everyone was always beautifully dressed from head-to-toe. Athleisure wear does not really exist in Europe and if you saw someone wearing sweatpants or leggings, you knew they were an American. Although I did sometimes miss being able to casually throw on my lulus before going to class, overall I really enjoyed the care Europeans put into their appearances. It was fun to keep up with the Italian trends and I ended up buying some staples in Rome to wear back in the States!
When I arrived in Rome, I had absolutely no experience using public transportation. Besides buses, we don’t have much of it in Madison, WI, and most of my life I’ve had a car to get me from place-to-place. Traveling through Europe forced me to get good at it, and fast. At the beginning, I couldn’t figure out how to get on a bus to the Colosseum (a 20 minute walk from my apartment). By the end of the trip, I was able to get my mom and myself back to Monterosso from a hike in the middle of nowhere on the only bus in in Cinque Terre.
In addition to being easy and useful, public transportation in Europe is very affordable. A month pass for full use of buses, trams and metro in Rome will only cost you €35, something I thought was expensive until I moved to New York and the same pass was $121.
While living in Rome, I took trains from Roma Termini to Naples, Anzio, Cinque Terre, Florence and Venice. The trains were often very cheap and had no luggage restrictions, a nice break from all the flights we were taking on the weekends.
Make sure to take full advantage of these nine European perks before returning to the U.S. of A! I know I did, and I had the trip of a lifetime.
Thanks for reading,