5 Things I Learned from My First Trip to Europe

Josh and I are back!

Four countries, three languages, and one (very) delayed flight later and we are back home. Everything from our trip to Europe was such a learning experience and I would not have changed anything about it.

I am so excited to share with everyone details about our trip so that it can help you plan your next one.

As you saw from my previous post, Preparing for Europe, Josh and I spent about 3 weeks in Europe exploring Switzerland, France, London and Spain. We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but, surprisingly, we never once felt overwhelmed or exhausted. Despite all the traveling, we felt very relaxed and energized by our trip. Maybe it’s because we were so excited or because we are young (side note: OMG guys, I am 27 now!?!), but I would recommend our itinerary.

5 Things I Learned from My First Trip to Europe

I am planning to write a few blog posts about our trip, but I wanted to start off with the most important aspect for me since it was my first trip to Europe as an adult*. Here are 5 things I learned from my trip…

Be sure to check out my Instagram @alextmorris for more photos and stories!

1) English is really a universal language, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your best to speak the native tongue!

Throughout our trip, we experienced three different languages: Spanish, French, and German. I, however, only speak English and really struggle with Spanish (but I am getting better!). So when we planned this trip, I was a little nervous. There was no way I was going to be able to tackle a new language fluently, especially not three!

I quickly learned that most people in Europe know a decent amount of English. This was reassuring for me, but it also made me feel incredibly guilty. Europe gave me the luxury of traveling to a different country where I could get by because someone else took the time to learn the language I speak.

So while it was incredibly helpful, I also made the effort to learn as much as I could while I was there. This usually meant that I would start the conversation with a simple hello in the local language and then the other person would ask me questions that I would either understand from context or body language. I would answer with a yes or a no, until they got to a point where I didn’t understand what they were asking anymore and I would have to say “Oh I am so sorry, my Spanish/French/German isn’t that good.” Everyone was very understanding and then they usually started speaking to me in English.

I had so much fun trying to learn each of these languages, although I must admit that German was the most difficult. While I have been learning Spanish to better communicate with Josh’s family, I realized during the trip that I LOVE French!

5 Things I Learned from My First Trip to Europe
Our first experience in France included us going to a pizza shop where the lady didn’t speak any English. After some awkward hand signals, we managed to order some pizza. While we were eating the owner came outside and started pouring us some wine! We quickly googled how to thank her in French and told them it was delicious!

2) Staying in hostels and Airbnbs allowed us to ask locals what they recommend we should do, instead of just going to the common tourist spots.

Don’t get me wrong, we did a lot of touristy things! But we were able to ask the locals what they recommend and it really allowed us to get away from the crowds and enjoy our time.

We did a little bit of research before we left, of course, to see what there was to do so that we could choose where exactly we wanted to go, but we never had any set plans which allowed us to be open to recommendations. Even if we didn’t go to the exact place that was recommended (not sure why, but people usually recommend really fancy restaurants), it would lead us to different parts of the city/country that we might have otherwise overlooked.

5 Things I Learned from My First Trip to Europe

A hike, recommended by our Airbnb host, included some incredible views. Not to mention, it was the first time I saw the cows, which are all adorable and all have cowbells. I fell in love and took an unhealthy amount of photos of them throughout the trip.

3) Trying the signature local foods is a must!

This was pretty obvious to me before we left, but I would also like to add that you should not purchase the signature local foods in the tourist hot spots!! It will most likely be overpriced, not authentic, and crazy busy.

Signature meals we had:

Annecy, France: Anything (and they serve just about everything) with Reblochon cheese

Paris, France: Pan au Chocolat (chocolate croissant)


Barcelona Spain: Paella and Crema Catalana

I would also highly recommend trying the coffee in every country. As a coffee obsessed human, I loved the coffee everywhere we went.

5 Things I Learned from my First Trip to Europe
Coffee breaks are a must! We stopped at a coffee shop at Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland that was the hub for the base jumpers (which is legal there).
5 Things I Learned from My First Trip to Europe
Dinner in Annecy, France, was something I swear I dreamed about. Every dish we ordered seemed to have at least a little bit of the local Robuchon cheese (or a lot!).

4) Bring an extra bag for souvenirs and gifts!

This is something we did not plan very well. We ended up having to borrow a bag from Josh’s family because we bought so many gifts that we were over the luggage weight limit.

Normally we don’t buy souvenirs. Or, if we do, they are very small. So when we came back with 3 bottles of wine, ceramic bowls, and a wheel of cheese, we couldn’t help but give each other that “what have we done” look when we were packing our last night.

If you are arriving and leaving from the same place, but don’t want to carry your bag while you are traveling, I would recommend leaving your extra bag in a locker. In Barcelona, we use a locker to store our climbing gear while we traveling, so that we could use it when we got back. If you ask, most places will give you a discount for long-term stays.

5 Things I Learned from My First Trip to Europe
The La Boqueria Market is a must in Barcelona. We got so many gifts there, including chocolates and cheese. Don’t forget to pick-up some fresh juice for 1 euro while you shop. I recommend any of them with coconut!
5 Things I Learned from my First Trip to Europe
Camden was one of my top 3 highlights from the trip. The markets there are insane! Josh hates shopping (not even slightly kidding) and we stayed here for hours just looking at all the unique shops.

5) Pack for every kind of weather, not just what the weather channel says.

For this trip, I packed very light, with only 6 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, and 3 jackets. Before I left, I checked the weather and it said that it was going to be rainy and mild temperature. Not to mention, everyone kept telling me how cold it gets in England.

So of course, I packed sweaters and long sleeve t-shirts. Turns out, it was really warm and the only thing that I had to keep me cool was one short sleeve shirt. I had to use my sleep t-shirt on some days because it was just so flippin’ hot! I also had to carry extra weight from the jackets that I packed, which felt like a lot in those hot temps!

Lesson learned.

5 Things I Learned from My First Trip to Europe
We went climbing in Spain (of course) and it was about 80 degrees out. Three routes into the day though, it started pouring rain. Even when it rained, it was still hot!
5 Things I Learned from my First Trip to Europe
The forecast said it was going to rain every single day that we were in Switzerland. It didn’t even rain once!

But when it did rain, we knew how to have a good time…


*I went to Germany for a week when I was 13 for my sister’s wedding. Other than that, I have not traveled outside of the US.

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