Travelling in Europe is incredible for the history and the culture, but I learnt a couple things on this last trip.
NUMBER ONE: BUY AN INTERNATIONAL SIM CARD!!!
There can be few things as frustrating as not being connected to the inter web these days, especially when we have all become dependant on Google Maps. There are lots of places that offer free wifi, but not enough. Do it. Spend the 10 Euro to get an international SIM, buy a little data, save yourself some panic time.
2. Invest in good luggage or an excellent backpack (1st prize, even if you're not 'backpacking').
You think you're going to the first world? Yes, they were among the first to invent roads and since they built them hundreds of years ago, they have never been upgraded. Cobble stones, loose tiles, gravel: they are the enemy of wheels and should not be underestimated, because there's nothing worse than packing a bag you think you'll be able to drag smoothly that suddenly becomes immobile and impossible to carry up stairs (which you will need to do, these train stations existed before escalators and lifts.)
And regarding luggage, above all, be smart, pack light.
That guy in the back is how I felt when I realised my bag weighed 26kgs and that my wheel broke on the first cobble stone.
3. Always carry painkillers.
I don't care what your beliefs are on self medicating, there will come a time when your neck is sore from awkward sleeping positions, or you're hung over or your brain hurts from trying to understand another language, or worse the trifecta of all of the above, where you will be grateful to just take the edge off.
4. Use your credit card wherever possible
Here, I preach denialism. What you don't know can't hurt you until you're back in South Africa, so just keep swiping, carrying actual cash makes how expensive things are travelling on the rand, all too real. And just remember what Mastercard taught us, travel is priceless...
5. Stand your ground
You are a tourist, don't even try pretend that you look like anything else, but that doesn't mean you should let anyone take advantage of you. Anyway, you're South African, you can't afford to be taken advantage of...
With regards to standing your ground, it will really help if you do this...
6. Learn basic numbers
How can one haggle, if one doesn't understand the numbers?
7. Always take snacks on the train.
Don't be the person that gets stuck on a four hour train ride with a group of people who really know how to do this travel thing, I'm talking full-on picnic vibes, everything from baguettes to fruit to wine.
8. Be prepared to go against every natural instinct you might have on the roads.
But do it anyway. Driving on the wrong side of the road. Pedestrians being able to stop traffic by putting one toe on the road at a pedestrian crossing. Cycling across three lanes of traffic and not being run over. These are all things that happen in Europe.
9. Bring your own method of making coffee, the AeroPress is my tool of choice.
It's all good and well to experience the local coffee culture but if you're like me, you want some control over your coffee, especially when you've just had another Italian style espresso and you just can't do another.
I regret my decision not to take mine with to Europe, don't assume that good coffee is available everywhere, always have a back up plan.
10.The power of a good song in your ear when s**t is hitting the fan is immeasurable.
This was my anthem for this particular trip.