By: Meghan K.

Have you ever taken a trip out of the country? For most people, the answer to this question is “no.” And what about off the continent—say, Europe? For an even larger portion of people, the answer is the same. But hey, if you’re planning on traveling to Europe, you’re going to be knocking out both questions!
For a variety of reasons, not a lot of people travel to Europe; it can be expensive, the flights are long, and the prospect of visiting a country where they have different traditions and may even speak another language can be daunting. But never fear; it’s easier than it looks!

Last summer, I took a trip to Switzerland with my family. We didn’t go to visit Our Chalet, unfortunately (we were on the other side of Switzerland), but we did climb a few mountains, eat a lot of chocolate, and meet some sheep. I did got a lot of pictures of mountains, sheep, and cities, but I also learned something valuable; how to survive traveling long distance. So think of me as your well-traveled, slightly public transportation-obsessed companion as I explain to you how to survive a trip to Europe, from the long flight to the different culture to some fun things to do.
First of all, about a week before you leave, start going to bed earlier. Even if you end up going to bed only an hour earlier, this will still make a difference when you’re trying to adjust to the different time zone. Also, it will make it easier to fall asleep on the plane; because you’ll end up staying up later that night, you’ll already feel tired when you finally settle down to sleep. Also, at this point, prepare a few things to read, watch or do on the flight back home. This will be explained later.
On the day of your flight, it’s important to dress comfortably. Unless you are willing to change in an airplane bathroom (which I don’t recommend, airplane bathrooms are very tight squeezes), you’re likely going to be wearing the same clothes for around 24-hours or more, so don't wear anything you can’t sleep in. Leggings, t-shirts, and slip-on shoes are your best bets, and be sure to wear layers in case you get too cold or too hot.
Also, get as much sleep as you can on the plane. Since you’re traveling east, the night will seem very short, and also jet lag is a thing that can happen, so while pulling an all-nighter may be tempting, the more sleep you get, the better you’ll feel the next day. It’s almost certain that you’re not going to get your usual eight hours, but even an hour or two can make a difference.
When you get off the plane, you’ve got something else to deal with; jet lag. It may not set in right away; often, when you get off the plane, you’re going to be moving for a good solid hour, going through customs and getting on your next mode of transportation, so the time change doesn’t really have time to catch up with you. But once you sit down on a train, or get to your hotel room or apartment, you are going to feel a kind of tired that you’ve never felt before. While it may feel tempting to curl up and take a nap, try to avoid it as best you can. Taking a nap for more than about fifteen minutes will affect your ability to adjust to the time zone, so instead wait for the sun to set before you get your much-needed shut-eye.
The next day, try and make sure you set an alarm clock for your usual wakeup time, or maybe even a tiny bit earlier, (but make sure it’s local time) so that you can get yourself back onto a normal sleep cycle. You may still feel kind of tired, and you may still feel the after-effects of jet lag, but you will feel very refreshed after that first night’s sleep. Make sure you keep to a regular sleep schedule, and you should be good.
A lot of countries in Europe speak a different language, maybe even two or three. If you don’t speak the language fluently, don’t worry; depending on where you are, a lot of people in Europe will at least make an attempt to speak English. If you can, try to learn at least one or two words in the country’s most common language as well, even if the words are just “please” and “thank you.” During your trip, you may find yourself picking up a few more words than you expected!
Also, if you can use public transportation, do it! In Europe, cars aren’t really all that necessary, as trains connect most destinations; bigger cities are also connected via a subway system, streetcars (especially in older cities, such as Zürich or Prague), and/or a bus line. Public transportation is an exciting way to get from point A to point B; also, it’s a good place to people watch (if you find this enjoyable). Public transportation can also provide some stunning views, and reinforces the fact that trains and streetcars are really, really cool. If you can, try to get a rail pass or other pass so that you’ve got the fare for multiple days covered; this will make traveling a lot easier!
Make sure you explore the area you’re visiting. Many parts of Europe have some fascinating historic places if that’s the kind of thing you’re into (you’ll find many more castles there, that’s for sure), and the landscape tends to be much different than the landscape here in North America, which makes for an interesting hike. Check out some of the food, visit a local shop and see what’s in style, eat chocolate (the UK, for instance, has a bunch of different kinds that you can’t find here, and Switzerland and Belgium are known for their chocolate) above all, take pictures. Europe is covered in photo opportunities.
After your adventures, when you have to go home, it’s going to be very similar to the flight to Europe, except in reverse. This is going to be the longest afternoon of your life. And while an 8+ hour afternoon might be fun with friends, flying over a seemingly endless ocean can get very boring after a while, even if you have a window seat. Remember how I suggested that you bring some things to do on the flight back? Well, here you go. If you have any books to read, music to listen to, movies to watch, or other things to do, use them! Eight hours is a long time to be doing nothing!
Also, try to take a nap on the plane. It’s going to seem kind of impossible, but once again, you’ll be traveling for almost a full 24-hours, so you’re going to be absolutely worn out by the time you get home, and even more so if your plane is delayed and you have to sit in the airport for an additional hour or more. So if you have a chance, take a nap. You’ll find that when it comes to traveling to Europe or anywhere, sleep is your best friend.
And that’s all there is to it! Traveling to Europe is a lot of fun and can be a very interesting experience. So whether you’re going to visit relatives, traveling to one of the WAGGGS World Centres, or just going for fun, you now have some tips and tricks in your pocket that you can use on any long trip. You may even pick up some new ones of your own!
Happy travels, or as they say in French, “bon voyage!”

Special thanks to Luke K. for helping me out with this story!

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