Why Hello Euro!
I absolutely love traveling around Europe! First, each country is very unique from one another. Sometimes you cross a border and feel as if you are in a completely different world. They all have beautiful landscapes with breathtaking scenery. They each house both new and old age cities and towns full of fascinating history and diverse architecture. Every culture is very different; whether it be through language, traditions, family dynamic, work, agriculture, food, government, religion etc. No two are the same. This diversity is what makes European travel so exciting. You never know what new experiences you may have. Expect the unexpected!
Also, the infrastructure throughout Europe is very commuter friendly. Cities are full of fantastic walking and biking paths with public transportation systems that puts ours to shame. You think we would have learned from these countries? Most don't even have cars if you live in a city. There's no need. Overall, people tend to walk to get where they need to go. Daily life essentials are all located in a much closer proximity than the US. Due to this, it seems to me that people are more active. Always walking, strolling, biking or running where they need to go. The best part, everything is sooooo close and compact. Just a hour train ride, drive or flight and you are in a totally different country. Trips that would take a week of vacation coming from the US, can be discovered within a long-weekend without feeling rushed.
The Important Things... Meals
Across the board, Europe seems to have a slower start to the day. A lot of coffee shops and bakeries aren't even open until 8:00am or later, unless it is near a main station. Coffee is incredible though! It's the real deal, without all the frilly additions we have at home. Don't be that girl. Unless you go to a Starbucks (which is super expensive), don't whip out the "Do you have a Low Fat White Chocolate Mocha Latte with Oat Milk?" They will just look at you like you have 10 heads and probably get annoyed. We are such divas ; ). Also, do not be surprised about the much smaller size. A small is like a kiddy cup, just a sip. Everything is just bigger in the US. If you want a 'big' coffee, which still isn't nearly as big as ours, it is called an 'Americano'. Go figure ha. Plain Jane black though. They will ask you if you want milk or sugar. They use A LOT of sugar, so just ask for 1 if you want it. Lattes, Cappuccinos and Macchiatos usually come with a sweet cracker or a little cookie, which is a little welcomed surprise.
Breakfast also isn't thought of as an important meal like home. People usually just grab a croissant or pastry and a coffee. Don't worry though, you can still find the American Breakfast or English Breakfast in more touristy locations. Want to feel like a local? Grab a croissant (butter, chocolate filled or jam filled) and start your day. Jam filled is heavenly; apricot (my favorite) or a berry filled. You will never be able to eat one at home again, that's a promise. It's just not the same. Also, the fresh bread in Europe is incredible. Toast is very American or British and sometimes doesn't exist at all depending where you are. Healthy options can be found for sure. Freshly squeezed Orange Juice is common everywhere. Smoothies, other fresh juices and acai bowls are around, you just have to look for them.
Lunch is legit in Europe. It's an event. People stop working, drop everything and go out or home to have lunch, as if they have all the time in the world. Europeans do not pack lunch for work like we do at home. It's a true social hour with a big meal. Expresso or other coffees and dessert options always conclude lunch as well. Another thing that would never fly at home, is that children leave school and go home for lunch. They are very independent. Work meetings are also never scheduled during lunch and don't expect any email responses or phone calls to be answered from noon until around 1:30pm. Depending on where you are in Europe, some shops/businesses close entirely and reopen later in the afternoon. Each location has their lunch timeframe.
Dinner tends to be a little later than at home, or at least later than when I used to eat. Probably because lunch is a feast. It is very common to not eat dinner until 8 or 9pm, which was when I was starting to settle in for the night. You can still eat earlier, but check the hours at the restaurant. Some do not even open until 7pm. It's all good though, just grab a cocktail somewhere and relax. You have all the time in the world. If you have that dessert sweet tooth, you won't be disappointed. Restaurants have endless possibilities and you'll always find gelato regardless of what country you are in. To conclude your meal, have a coffee so you are ready to go out for the night.
Lots of restaurants offer vegetarian, vegan, dairy free and gluten free options. Most have it designated on their menu, if the restaurant is a new age spot. Especially in a main touristy city. Old school locations, mom and pop restaurants and places off the beaten path probably do not state these options. Just take the time to explore the menu if you have dietary restrictions. Ask the questions. People typically are very nice and understanding about these restrictions and will accommodate.
Another super random thing, ice in drinks isn't a guarantee. You have to ask for it most of the time. Some truly local restaurants may not even have it. Sometimes beers also aren't served cold (especially on tap). No idea why, but it happens. Also, you will be asked if you want water with your meal. Unless you ask for tap (if you are in a place that you can drink it), you will get a big bottle that you have to pay for. Still or sparkling. Request still unless you want the bubbles.
One thing I noticed immediately getting off the airplane, was how many cigarette smokers are still in Europe. Smoking has almost become taboo in the US, but not here. Ashtrays are on a lot of restaurant tables, there are smoking lounges in airports, there are still signs that remind people that this is a no smoking area. People can smoke at tables next to you outside. Most smokers are conscientious of their surroundings, but some aren't. I'm sure Europe is moving in the right direction, but it's still very prevalent. If you're a big anti-smoke person, just wanted to give you a heads-up.
Anyhow, away from the negatives... Another European perk, alcohol consumption isn't strict like the US. It's Europe! You can grab a beer or whatever you want at anytime of day, at grocery stores, convenience stores, to-go from restaurants etc. They don't have the ridiculous open container laws. You can walk around or have a relaxing sit-off, whatever you want to do. But with that freedom, Europeans are also much more mature about consumption. They aren't stumbling around, being loud and obnoxious. They've been brought up differently as a culture. Consuming alcohol is more like having a soda. It's casual, nonchalant, no big deal. You don't need to hide it in solo cups or pour into to-go coffee mugs or paper bag it like home haha. We've all done it, don't act like you haven't... Now do European's get a little rowdy? Hell yeah. Bars, clubs and raves stay open all night. If you want to party, you've come to the right place. But again, casually drinking, is much more of an 'everyday lifestyle' thing.
Anything goes from a fashion perspective in Europe. Yes, you have a lot of luxury designers and the over the top runway styles, but you also have full casual or street wear. American brands are in high demand, some of which you would never expect. People here cover the full spectrum of fashion. Round the corner and you may see a corset on top of a flowy summer dress or a full nude body suit that makes you do a double look. A casual sweat suit that costs more than my entire wardrobe. Jorts... never left Europe haha. Honestly, wear as little or as much clothing as you want, no one batts an eye. Europeans are much less judgey when it comes to what you wear or how you look than in the US. It's much more of a 'you do you' vibe. Self expression, in all forms, is welcomed.
Plan Your Vacation Accordingly
When you decide to plan your vacation, or 'holiday' as they call it in Europe, make sure to take national and religious holidays into consideration. Most of Europe tends to literally shut down during Christian holidays. Meaning shopping is closed, limited restaurants/bars and even sometimes grocery stores are closed. Same goes for national holidays. For instance, Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) Ireland is completely shut down. We made that mistake. We only found one bar (an American bar) that was open, nothing else in the entire city. Luckily it was perfect just strolling the city and enjoying the Christmas vibes. Just do your research if you plan to travel during these times. Nothing is worse than not being able to do the activities you want during your vacation.