Travelling Alone in Europe
There is no continent on Earth more diverse than Europe in its range of cultures and its historical significance. From the Arctic Circle down to Ancient Greece, from the Atlantic Ocean to the edge of the vast Siberian Peninsular, Europe offers so much to discover - and it's not even really that big!
It's the centre of the world in so many ways - the cradle of Christianity as a world faith; the epicentre of two world wars, the innovator of technology and exploration and the bridge between the ancient and new worlds. With the prospective inclusion of Turkey in the EU, that which is termed as modern Europe now extends beyond even its own geological borders to the gateway into the Arab world. If you weren't from here, you'd really think it was worth a visit, wouldn't you?
Why?We often take Europe for granted with it being right on our doorstep; we have a patriotic obligation to resent the French and tend to forget the rest even exists, but now that this ever expanding region is opening its doors to more member states there are more exciting destinations than ever before that are easy to reach, easy to get into and easy to fall in love with.
Visas, Documentation and HealthcareThe UK is a full member of the EU and as such its citizens are permitted to roam freely throughout any other member state for as long as we like. We can work, study or just bum around and no visa is required - we can even sign up for social benefits in theory, but good luck with the bureaucracy on that one! All you need to travel freely throughout this magnificent continent is a passport or national ID card, obtainable from the Identity & Passport Service or the Post Office.
British citizens are also entitled to free medical care throughout Europe in the event of an emergency, though it's worth carrying a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) just to prove it. You can get one of these by applying through the Post Office or the Department of Health.
Cultural DifferencesBecause of the spectrum of diversity within Europe it's virtually impossible to summarise any cultural differences you may encounter, but it is fair to say that despite what many people believe, our neighbours are generally not so different from ourselves and in most cases, are tolerant, open-minded people. The British stereotype does however exhibit certain negative characteristics and it's a good idea not to fuel such ideas. Be respectful and tolerant - oh, and don't mention the war.
Speaking of wars, and aside from the fact that nobody outside the UK really appreciates British humour, you may find an element of resentment in certain countries toward Britain's current political stance with regard to foreign policy. If you're of a patriotic mind it may be a good idea to utilise your inherent sense of British diplomacy and avoid the subject.
One of the most vivid cultural differences is the perception of common courtesy. Try not to be offended by deviations of etiquette - many people, particularly in the south of Europe, can seem overly blunt or even rude when they don't mean to be. Save your frustration for when they're trying to rob you.
Recommended DestinationsIf you're interested in seeing as much of Europe as possible in a given time period, a European Railcard is a fairly convenient option. It's worth speaking to a travel agent to see what options are available to you - especially for students. Travelling by rail also helps to save on accommodation as well as offering a unique opportunity to see the landscape. Doing Europe by car is also a highly recommended option, given that you can take your own car rather than hiring one! Another viable option is hitch-hiking.
For new and undiscovered destinations, consider the newer EU member states: Poland, Romania, Slovenia. Such countries are rich in culture and history - bearing the scars of the last century in particular. They're cheap to enjoy and are as yet unspoiled by tourism, all in all offering a great package for a unique city break. For beaches try Croatia (not yet a member state but British citizens may stay up to 90 days without a visa), Sardinia or the tried and tested islands of Spain and Greece; while for nightlife, Spain and Scandinavia offer the most tantalising options.