Posted by: 4initalia | June 1, 2010

Thirteen Lessons From a Year of Traveling in Europe

Carpi Diem. No really, the town is called Carpi.

1. Pack light. Unless it’s cold where you’re going. Then pack heavy, so you don’t have to buy another jacket just like the three you left at home.

2. Always pack a bathing suit, so you don’t have to buy one that’s way less flattering than the three you left at home.

3. Europeans invented a lot of languages so Americans would feel grateful for pharmacists who speak English.

4. Living like a local is a lot more fun if you’re living like a local rich person.

5. Don’t try to craft the ultimate travel experience. Have fun with tourist traps, and spend time off the beaten trail – but always enjoy just being out of your element.

6. Humidity matters. As water vapor increases, so do bugs, laundry (because of either sweat or need for extra layers), fatigue, and crankiness. When packing, consider temperature and humidity.

7. Never look a Romani in the eye if you’re going to say no. Her contempt will burn out your corneas.

8. Don’t buy anything made in China, unless you’re in China. That will eliminate most foolish purchases.

9. Local spices make great gifts.

10. Guidebooks are written to make you feel bad about all the cool stuff you don’t have time to see, and all the fascinating facts you won’t remember.  The only people who have time to see every”Highly Recommended” site in the guidebook wrote the guidebook. People who write guidebooks are compensating for some major personal inadequacies.

11. Never let a junkie help you work the train ticket machine.

12. Never tick off a junkie who wants to help you work the train ticket machine.

13. No matter who you are and what you’re wearing, encounters with Turkish toilets always end badly.


  1. I LOVE the Gypsy comment!!! did that happen to you??

  2. Yes. I think I’m going to hell for that, if that particular gypsy has anything to do with it.

  3. I,TOO, love the gypsy comment!!! As for humidity, how true is that!!! Just ask my dear husband who put up with MY humidity crankiness. As for junkies in train stations, which station in particular so I can avoid it???? BTW, I just LOVE the photo!! Baci e abbracci, cara.

    • Hi Maxine! The train station in Milan is particularly bad. There are junkies, and gypsies, and people pretending to be harried travellers who are actually pickpockets working with a partner.

      The worst are the junkies – while you try to use the ticket machine, the junkies will stumble up and push buttons to “help”
      you – but they’re completely fried, so they just waste your time. But they want to be paid for their assistance – and it’s not a great idea to make them mad – they’re nuts.

      The gypsies will get in your face and offer to help – and they actually know what they’re doing – but they’re probably working with a partner, who is picking your pocket while you’re trying to get rid of them.

      Then there is the harried traveller. She’s relatively well dressed, and in a hurry to get the stupid tourist out of the way so she can get her ticket and catch her train. But the harried traveller is also working with a partner, who will pick your pocket while your new friend is helping you with your ticket. Harried travellers are found in the more upscale part of the train station, in the international ticket area.

      I was so horrified by the junkies and the gypsies in the Milan station I took the kids to the international area – and then I noticed the harried traveller routine. She’s in a boiling hurry, but she doesn’t actually leave – and no matter what line she’s in, there’s a guy who slips in behind the person she’s helping.

      How do you deal with this?

      Keep your purse in front of you, across your shoulder. While your husband is getting a ticket, stand behind him, facing into the station. Pick pocketing is a crime of opportunity – you’ll be fine if you don’t look like a target. There’s plenty of easy pickings – so just looking like you know what’s going on makes you less attractive as a target.

      It happens, but it doesn’t have to happen to you!


  4. I would add “Never give a gypsy anything less than a $2 euro or she will throw it at you” as happened to my 10-year-old son who thought he was being kind and helpful when he gave one $0.50 !

  5. Wow – that’s pretty harsh – that must have been scary for your son! I always gave money to street musicians, but avoided gypsies, until the last week we were there. gave a bunch of change to a woman, and then a second one pretty much accosted my husband. He was freaked.

    The story of the Gysies in Italy is pretty complicated and very sad. Some of them have been in Italy for hundreds of years, others came to escape war and poverty in other parts of Europe. A lot of them survive by begging, and Italians hate that. But they’re also discriminated against in school and in hiring – it’s a tough situation.

    Thanks for stopping by – and I hope your son had fun in Italy!

  6. Urgh, I had a gypsy woman attack a friend of mine outside a cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria. My friend had some cash in her hand ready to go in and buy some candles when the woman exited, saw the cash and lunged at my friend, trying to bite her hands. I placed my hand on her head trying to push her off and she screamed at me saying in Bulgarian ‘don’t touch me, don’t touch me you evil person!’

    Needless to say, she ripped the cash so she didn’t get anything. I thought I had been cursed because of the way she screamed!

    • Wow, that’s pretty dramatic. During a big scene like that, I’d worry that someone would grab my purse in the scuffle. I think the women are pretty desperate, because if they don’t bring back enough cash, they get beaten. That’s awful. How did you like Sofia?

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