Planning a trip to Europe and want to make sure you know exactly what to expect? These Europe travel tips will help you prepare!
We absolutely adore traveling in Europe–so much so that after spending more than 1.5 cumulative years traveling the continent, visiting most European countries along the way, we finally moved here!
Today, Lisbon, Portugal is our base between trips in Europe.
We’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels and apartments in Europe, visited countless cities and towns, and explored via plane, train, bus, and road trip.
Along the way, we’ve picked up plenty of travel tips for Europe, from cultural quirks to be on the lookout for, to ways to save yourself a few headaches or a bit of money.
Here are the best Europe travel tips to keep in mind before you go.
Table of Contents
- A Quick Note on the Generality of Europe Travel Tips
- Tips for Staying in Hotels + Apartments in Europe
- Restaurant Tips for Europe
- Europe Travel Tips for Grocery Shopping
- Tips for Driving in Europe
- Train Travel Tips for Europe
- Bus + Taxi Travel Tips for Europe
- Tips for Flying in Europe
- Travel Tips for Paying for Things in Europe
- Logistical Travel Tips for Europe
- Sightseeing Tips for Traveling Europe
- Packing for Your Trip to Europe
- Going to Europe?
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A Quick Note on the Generality of Europe Travel Tips
Given that Europe is made up of around 53 independent countries and is roughly the size of the USA, obviously, these travel tips for Europe won’t be able to delve deeply into the individual intricacies that come with traveling somewhere that is home to such a variety of cultures, languages, and topography.
We’ve intentionally kept these Europe travel tips fairly high-level, and while they will help guide your general expectations for traveling on the continent–especially if you’re going on a multi-country trip–you’ll definitely want to follow up with additional research into your specific destinations.
We’d love to help with that, of course–see our Destinations page or use the search bar in the top-right corner of the screen to see what information we have on the locations you’re headed to.
We’ve also primarily written this post from the perspective of people from the USA, and while we think that other non-Europeans will find value here as well, some of these Europe travel tips do speak to cultural differences between the USA and Europe specifically.
Tips for Staying in Hotels + Apartments in Europe
Hotels and apartments will commonly make a copy of or take a picture of your passport.
This is done for tax and licensing purposes on their end and is totally normal, so don’t worry about it!
Leaving your room key at the hotel when you go out is common.
This won’t happen absolutely everywhere, but just know that if a hotel asks you to leave the hotel key at the front desk when you leave for the day, this is perfectly reasonable.
For obvious reasons, you’re much more likely to find this practice in hotels with beautiful, old-fashioned keys.
Modern hotels with electronic room access don’t need to keep your physical key on hand.
You’ll need to pay a tourist tax in most places you visit.
This is collected by your hotel and increasingly by private apartments/Airbnbs (they’re required to do so).
This fee is set per person, per night, and is usually around 2-4 Euros, though it does vary.
So, for example, if you’re a couple spending 4 nights in a city with a 2 Euro tourist tax, you would owe 16 Euros: 2 Euros per person (aka 4 Euros per night for you as a couple), for 4 nights.
This tax must be paid in cash. There are exceptions–some upscale hotels will let you charge it and then handle the cash on their end–but we’ve only had that offered a couple of times. Cash is always deeply preferred.
Hotels will generally request the tax at the beginning of the stay, but most won’t make a big deal out of having you pay anytime before check out if you don’t have cash on hand during check-in.
These taxes are never paid before arrival–so even if you paid for your hotel in full through a service like Booking.com before checking in, you’ll still owe the tax upon arrival.
You’ll see these taxes imposed in most major European tourism destinations, but not necessarily everywhere on the continent.
Air conditioning is not a given.
If you’re visiting Europe during the summer, double-check that your hotel or apartment before booking.
Air conditioning isn’t always standard, even in countries that get quite hot, but it’s often very necessary in our opinion.
Don’t expect a clothes dryer.
Even if your apartment rental or Airbnb comes with a washing machine, you generally won’t find a dryer–but there will be a rack to line-dry your clothes on.
You may turn the electricity on in your hotel room with your key.
In some hotels, you’ll turn the electricity on and off by entering your hotel key into a slot near the door.
This is done in order to ensure electricity is used efficiently.
If the lights in your hotel room aren’t working when you arrive, keep an eye out for a slot to place the key in!
If you have mobility concerns, choose a place to stay carefully.
Narrow, steep staircases are not uncommon in Europe–we’ve climbed many of them to reach apartments or hotel rooms.
Elevators/lifts are also far from a guarantee, especially at small, family-run properties.
Restaurant Tips for Europe
Google Maps is excellent for finding reliably good food on the go.
Out sightseeing and not sure where to stop to eat?
We use Google maps and its reviews in order to find reliable restaurants nearby–and it virtually never steers us wrong!
Most importantly, it cuts the pressure to choose a restaurant just by looking at it down dramatically, making it easier than ever to avoid tourist traps.
Make note of the local tipping culture before you sit down.
Tipping culture in restaurants varies wildly throughout the continent.
In some places, leaving nothing is normal.
Sometimes, you’re expected to round up a Euro or two.
In other places, 10% is the norm, and in still others, a standard fee is automatically added to the bill that serves as a tip.
Be sure to check the specifics before sitting down to avoid a faux pas!
Keep in mind that restaurants won’t always be open all day.
In many countries in Europe, it’s common for restaurants to close in the afternoon between lunch and dinner–usually roughly from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM, give or take.
Don’t shy away from reservations, especially in major cities.
If you want to eat at a particular restaurant, especially one that’s well-known, making reservations in advance will make all the difference.
If you’d rather not make them yourself, your hotel concierge is generally happy to help.
Slow service doesn’t mean bad service.
In most of Europe, polite service is reserved and slow–so don’t expect your waiter to hover over you, ask questions about your life, or bring the check until you ask for it (that would be considered rushing the customer).
It’s definitely a cultural difference from the USA, but honestly, we’ve grown to prefer it!
Waiting for a table is not common–you’re more likely to be turned away.
This goes along with the tip for traveling Europe listed above: since service is slower and meals are generally longer, it’s rare to be told that there’s an X-minute wait for a table at a restaurant.
Since those who have a table are welcome to keep it for the night, you’re more likely to be told the restaurant is full and to try again tomorrow.
If you call to make a last-minute reservation and are willing to eat on the early side, you may occasionally get a restaurant that will seat you and say you’re welcome to come, but you have to give up the table by X time so the original reservation can take over.
Consider taking a food tour at least once during your trip to Europe.
Food tours are one of our absolute favorite ways to explore a new city (or just favorite ones).
Not only will they help you learn more about the cuisine and embolden you to order dishes for the rest of your trip that you may not have known about, but they’re also tons of fun and a great way to get a walking tour in–with a twist.
Get Your Guide often has fantastic options as well (and covers far more cities than the first two).
Asking for tap water is fine, but it’s not guaranteed.
Whether or not a free carafe of tap water will be provided to you depends not only on the country and city that you’re visiting, but even on that particular restaurant.
If you prefer to drink water with many meals, it’s generally worth a shot to ask.
“Gas or no gas?” is a question you’ll get asked in virtually any restaurant.
Pretty self-explanatory, but “gas” is sparkling water.
If you want to pay by card, ask for the card machine when you ask for the check.
The waiter will bring the card machine right to the table and run your card in front of you.
In Europe, taking your credit card out of the sight of its owner in order to run the charge would be a major faux pas–you will always keep your card with you!
Europe Travel Tips for Grocery Shopping
Don’t forget to weigh your produce.
In the USA, you’ll bag your produce and then it will be identified and scanned at the register–but in Europe, that’s usually your job.
Each kind of produce will be marked with a number.
Take the number to the nearby scale, place your bag of produce on it (one type at a time, obviously), and press the respective number.
A sticker will automatically print with a barcode, weight, and price.
While this is the most common method, it’s not the only one–in some stores, the cashier will still weigh the produce at checkout.
Bring your own bags, or prepare to pay for them.
Plastic bags typically come with a small charge in Europe.
They’re available at the register in the supermarket, and you’ll either place however many you need on the conveyor belt yourself, or, if they’re stored under the register, the cashier will ask you how many you want (if any).
Of course, the best thing to do is to bypass this problem entirely and bring a reusable bag.
We love ours and have been using it to buy groceries in Europe (and for a myriad of other things) for years.
Consider buying produce at outdoor markets instead of the grocery store.
This varies depending on where you are, but in many places in Europe, grocery stores are better for basic staples–think yogurt, boxed foods, etc–and markets are a better place to get high-quality produce.
Tips for Driving in Europe
You might need an international driving permit.
This depends on the country and also what language your original license is printed in, so be sure to double-check requirements for any countries you plan to drive in before leaving for Europe!
Don’t drive your rental car to a different country without doing your research.
While it’s legal to cross borders in your car throughout much of Europe, that doesn’t mean your rental contract doesn’t prohibit it!
If you’re planning a multi-country European road trip, be sure to disclose exactly where you’re going when renting your car to make sure you have all the right permissions in your contract.
For finding the best rental car prices, we suggest searching via Discover Cars.
Discover Cars will search both international and local car rental brands to help you find the best prices for your dates, and it’s the search engine we use when renting cars in Europe.
The United Kingdom isn’t the only place you’ll need to drive on the left.
In Europe, you’ll generally only buy insurance for the car itself–not for liability.
Generally speaking, in Europe the car’s owner–ie the rental company–is required to carry liability insurance, which is why you’ll only be offered collision insurance (to cover literal damages to the car) in most cases.
If you’re planning on using your own rental insurance to cover a rental car, double-check the requirements.
Your insurance policy back home may generally cover you in a rental car–but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will in Europe, or in each and every individual European country.
Rent the smallest car you can.
The roads in Europe–especially off the major highways–are typically smaller than what we’re used to in the USA.
Keep things simple (and affordable) with a small car.
Expect to pay lots of tolls.
Toll roads are extremely common throughout Europe, so you can expect to pay many of them on a European road trip.
Some places do accept credit cards, but it’s always best to have small bills on hand to pay cash when needed.
… and to deal with a high gas bill.
Fuel is typically much more expensive in Europe than in the USA.
Driving in cities is generally a nightmare. Avoid it if you can.
There is generally absolutely no reason to pay for a rental car in a major European city.
If you’re headed to places like London, Amsterdam, or Rome, skip the rental car and find other transport.
Rental cars shine in Europe when traveling in the countryside and small towns, and are best used to explore a rural or semi-rural region in depth.
We adore road trips in Europe, but tend to avoid major cities when we do them!
Don’t expect an automatic car unless you ask for it.
While most rental car agencies will have some automatic rental cars on hand for tourists, manual cars are much, much more common in Europe.
As a result, automatic cars also tend to be much more expensive to rent!
Pay attention to gas vs diesel.
Diesel cars are much more common in Europe than in the USA, and it’s imperative to remember which one you rent!
Putting gas into a diesel engine or vice versa is catastrophic to the engine, so proceed with an abundance of caution.
Train Travel Tips for Europe
Trains are more useful in some parts of Europe than others.
In western and central Europe, train routes are plentiful: if you’re perusing these travel tips for Europe while planning a trip to places like Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and the UK, you’ll have endless choices for trains.
As you move further east in Europe, though, the train routes become much more limited.
If your travel route is taking you to the Balkans, for example, you’ll be much more likely to use buses to get around than trains.
Traveling by train in Europe generally isn’t the cheapest option, but it is the most comfortable.
Between arriving and departing from centrally-located train stations instead of hard-to-reach airports, avoiding security lines and bag-check fees, and the general comfort of traveling on high-speed trains, there’s no doubt that train is our absolute favorite way to travel through Europe.
You’ll often be able to find flights that are cheaper, and even more frequently that buses are cheaper.
If you have room in your budget, though, we’ll always suggest traveling by train in Europe when the route makes logistical sense.
The differences between first class and second class tickets are generally minimal.
When traveling via fast train in Europe, buying a first-class ticket generally comes with slightly larger seats, sometimes the ability to reserve your exact seats when you can’t in second class (both of those facts vary based on the company you travel with, though) and possibly a small snack like a water bottle and a pack of cookies.
Generally speaking, the perks of first-class are nothing worth paying extra for in our opinion.
Consider using Omio to buy train tickets in Europe with ease.
This is especially true for inter-country trips where you’ll likely be traveling with multiple countries.
For example, when we took the train from Paris to Venice recently, we traveled with a French company from Paris to Turin and then an Italian company from Turin to Venice and booking through Omio made everything very simple.
Search train routes and tickets prices in Europe today!
You may also want to consider an Eurail pass.
Though Eurail passes are not the best fit for budget travelers, depending on where exactly in Europe you are going, they can be an excellent choice to help you move around the continent with ease.
Bus + Taxi Travel Tips for Europe
Buses are generally the most affordable way to cover long distances in Europe.
… They’re also frequently the slowest and least comfortable, but they’re great for the wallet (and in some places, like parts of the Balkans, they’re the only viable public ground transportation option).
You can also use Omio to search for bus tickets.
Omio allows you to compare rates for bus services like Flixbus with train ticket prices to allow you to make the best choice based on a combination of travel time and price.
Search bus routes in Europe today!
Check for a local taxi app rather than hailing one off the street.
While Uber doesn’t exist everywhere in Europe, a similar equivalent–usually an app that hails an actual registered taxi, but not always–will exist in most major cities.
If you’re planning on hailing rides frequently in a city, downloading the local app should be one of the first things you do when you arrive.
Not all of the apps allow you to pay via the app itself like Uber, but they’re excellent for regulating prices and avoiding the uncertainty of negotiating a fare.
FreeNow is used in many places in Europe and is our go-to local taxi app.
Have a ground transportation plan before leaving the airport.
Metro, bus, taxi?
Know exactly how you’ll be getting from the airport to the hotel before you arrive, and your day will be much easier for it.
If you’ll be taking a taxi, look up and see if there’s a flat/set fare to get to the city center from the airport–there usually is, and it’s government regulated.
However, that won’t always stop drivers from telling you that your hotel isn’t in the center (it probably is).
Tips for Flying in Europe
Make careful note of what airports you fly in and out of.
This is especially important if you’re taking budget flights, as many of them fly out of a separate, less-expensive airport that is further out of the city
For example, in Paris, a budget air flight is likely to avoid Charles de Gaulle and head right for Orly or even Paris Beauvais–which is over an hour outside the city!
Always check flights for a few different dates if possible.
Prices can vary dramatically for prices between different cities on different days, especially because many budget airlines only run bargain flights on certain routes a few days of the week.
… and consider being flexible with where you go.
For example, Bologna and Pisa are both less than an hour by train outside of Florence, but it’s often significantly cheaper to fly there than directly to Florence!
Don’t bother showing up at the airport more than 2 hours before your flight.
If you have to check bags, the counter won’t take them, and you’ll be stuck outside security until the 2-hour mark.
Of all these tips for traveling Europe, this is the one that probably took us the longest to get used to when we started traveling, as it’s such a huge change from how things are done in the USA!
Travel Tips for Paying for Things in Europe
Always carry cash.
While card use is prominent in Europe, it’s essential to have cash with you at all times.
You never know when you’ll happen into a cash-only restaurant or store!
Keep in mind that not all European countries use the Euro.
If you’re planning a multi-country trip to Europe, keep in mind that you’ll likely need to change currencies a few times.
The easiest way to get cash is from ATMs.
Leave your travelers’ checks in the 20th century and avoid the hassle and excessive fees of currency change stores.
For cash, head directly to the ATM.
Keep an eye on the fees, of course–for our fellow US citizens, be aware that Charles Schwab offers a checking account that refunds all ATM fees worldwide.
We never paid a single ATM fee in our 4 years as full-time travelers!
… but avoid Euronet ATMs like a plague.
The fees on Euronet machines are egregious and border on scam-worthy.
Find an ATM from an actual local bank instead!
Bring a Visa or Mastercard to Europe.
American Express, Discover, and Diners Club are not as commonly accepted.
… and ideally one with no foreign transaction fees.
In the USA at least, credit cards without foreign transaction fees are so common these days that it seems a shame to use anything else for your big trip to Europe.
Call your credit card company before you leave for Europe.
Otherwise, there’s a good chance your card will be blocked when you try to buy something abroad for the first time–and that’s the last thing you want to deal with on your first day in Europe!
Keep track of your coins.
While in the USA the largest coin we typically use is a quarter, Euro coins go as high as 2 Euro.
Be sure to spend them ASAP to avoid ending up with a heavy and cumbersome 20 Euro worth of coins (it’s not hard to do, trust me).
Logistical Travel Tips for Europe
Don’t take unnecessary risks: purchase travel insurance for your trip to Europe.
Possibly one of the most important travel tips for Europe out there is to always purchase travel insurance for your trip.
Anything can happen on the road, and traveling abroad is definitely a case of better safe than sorry.
We use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Europe.
Know your Schengen Zone from your non-Schengen Zone.
This is an especially important tip for traveling Europe if you’re planning a longer trip.
Most people reading this blog post (so US citizens, Canadians, Australians, etc) are entitled to stay up to 90 days out of any given 180 in the Schengen Zone, a group of European countries that have open borders with each other.
Not all of Europe is part of this agreement, however, so be sure to check visa rules before arriving!
… and in general, be sure to check visa requirements.
Turkey, for example, requires many nationalities, including US citizens, to get a visa in advance before arriving.
Regardless of your destination, it’s always best to double-check visa requirements before booking any tickets abroad.
Expect to pay to use the restroom.
Of course, this is one of the better-known Europe travel tips out there, but it still bears repeating.
These costs can range from as little as .25 Euro to well over a Euro–if it does cost over a Euro, though, try to find another restroom if you can.
… and carry a small pack of tissues with you, just in case.
This is one of those travel tips for Europe that may never be important, but can be a lifesaver in the right situation!
Carrying a small pack of tissues has saved our very full bladders more than once when a public restroom was out of toilet paper (not an entirely uncommon situation).
One-way tickets are risky.
Technically, you must have transportation booked that shows when you’re leaving a country in order to enter most foreign destinations–the Schengen Zone and the UK included (and the UK is known for being stringent).
Airlines are typically tasked with enforcing this boundary, so if you’ve booked a one-way ticket to, say, Paris, don’t be surprised if you’re required to show proof of onward travel–another plane ticket, for example–at the gate before boarding.
Generally, the best advice is to have your exit plan in place before arriving.
Don’t try to see it all in one trip.
You can’t, of course, but one of the most important travel tips for Europe out there is simply… not to try.
We recommend spending an absolute minimum of two full days (so not including the day you arrive or depart) in each major city, and even that is for fast-paced travelers who are determined to stay on the go.
Don’t underestimate the time and effort it takes to change destinations.
“Oh, it’s only a 3-hour train ride away! That’s nothing!”
I think we’ve all said that at some point when planning a multi-country trip, but be cautious: 3 hours on the train doesn’t account for packing and unpacking, getting to and from the train station, checking out of and into a hotel… you get the picture.
If you’re looking at a high-level schedule without picking a specific date or time, you may also come to find that sure, there’s one direct 3-hour train between two cities… but it leaves at 10:00 PM or 6:00 AM, and the rest of the trains require layovers.
Or perhaps the direct train only runs 3 days a week.
Or maybe you’re looking at a plane, in which case, be sure to add at least 4 hours to your transit time: getting to and from the airport and security/check-in beforehand.
Long story short, travel days between countries are virtually always more tiring and time-consuming than they look at first glance, so don’t overcommit on those days!
Wake up early as often as you can.
Want to get beautiful photos of world-famous monuments without crowds around them, or stroll empty streets, or have famous viewpoints all to yourself?
If so, then be sure to get acquainted with experiencing the sunrise.
Luckily, if you’re coming from North America, this is easier than it seems: the jetlag will help!
Don’t shy away from traveling during the off-season.
You may need a coat and to mentally prepare for gray skies and the possibility of rain, but traveling in some of Europe’s most popular (read: crowded) cities can be an absolute delight during the winter.
Cities like Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam see an absolute fraction of the tourists in January than they do in June, resulting in bargain-basement prices, shorter lines, and an overall more pleasant experience.
Learn at least a few phrases in the local language.
This isn’t for necessity, exactly–in major tourism destinations, virtually all Europeans that work in the tourism industry will speak some English–but for politeness.
Holy Week is a big deal.
Planning a spring trip to Europe? Check when Easter is!
In much of Europe, Easter isn’t just a religious holiday but a secular one as well.
As a result, many tourism destinations get incredibly crowded and expensive in the week leading up to Easter.
Think of it as a combination of US-style Christmas/winter break and Spring Break, and plan accordingly.
Consider picking up a local SIM card to get around.
If you have the ability to switch your phone SIM card yourself, absolutely consider buying a European one!
Not only is data generally far cheaper than in the USA–we usually pay about 20 Euros/month for ours–it’s easy to get your hands on and will make everything about your trip, from choosing restaurants to finding your way around cities, infinitely easier.
Sightseeing Tips for Traveling Europe
Book tickets to must-see popular attractions in advance.
With limited time to explore Europe, one of our favorite Europe travel tips is to simply never wait in line.
Skip-the-line tickets and tickets booked in advance are rapidly becoming the norm around the continent, especially in a post-2020 world.
For some attractions (like the Arc de Triomphe) there’s no upcharge, and for others (like the Colosseum) it costs a few Euros more.
Either way, though, it’s money and planning time well spent.
We book all of our skip-the-line tickets through Get Your Guide and highly recommend their service.
Watch out for museum closures.
In many cities, there’s one day of the week when most museums close (in Florence, for example, it’s Monday).
When planning your trip, be sure to check museum hours for any must-see spots, as they’re frequently only open 6 days per week.
Try to avoid getting out-churched.
Europe is absolutely covered in opulent churches!
As impressive as they are, if you try to see as many as possible, you’ll likely end up feeling like they all start to look the same.
… and out-museumed.
You could spend years traveling in Europe and still not see everything its museums have to offer.
One of our biggest Europe travel tips is not to try to see it all–and that includes all the major museums in any city.
Fun fact: if you spent 30 seconds with every work of art inside the Louvre, it would take over 100 consecutive days to see them all!
Get (at least a little) off the beaten path.
Whether that means exploring a neighborhood in a major city that sees fewer tourists, taking a day trip to a lesser-known small town, or heading to a country that sees dramatically fewer visitors than tourist hotspots like Italy or France, your trip to Europe will absolutely be enhanced by stepping a bit off the beaten path–whatever that means to you.
If your trip is focused on cities, try to plan at least one day trip.
Head to a small town or beautiful slice of nature to see an entirely different side of the continent.
On a busy multi-country trip, I know how hard it can be to justify leaving the world-famous cities, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Packing for Your Trip to Europe
Double-check your packing list.
You’ll probably need an adaptor.
Plugs in Europe are likely different than those at home–plan ahead and ensure you’re able to charge your electronics abroad with adaptors like this.
… and maybe two.
While the adaptor I linked above can be used across most of Europe, certain countries, like the UK, Ireland, and Malta, use different plugs.
For those countries, you’ll want adaptors like this.
Keep in mind that these are different (and cheaper) than converters.
… which is what you’ll need if you plan to bring hairstyling products along with you, like a hairdryer or curling iron.
Personally, as part of our travel tips for Europe, we recommend keeping it simple and leaving those items at home.
Most hotels and many apartments will have a small hairdryer available to use in a pinch.
Even in the summer, be sure to bring a jacket.
The outside might be stifling, but anywhere with a/c–trains, buses, and museums included–has a decent chance of being an absolute icebox at any given time.
Bring at least one church-appropriate outfit.
While the strictness of the dress code varies across the continent, generally you’ll want to avoid packing at least one outfit that covers your cleavage, shoulders, and knees.
Men can usually get away with shorts that hit at the knee, but not always.
Bring a travel journal.
This one is personal preference, but trust me: travel memories fade so fast, especially when you’re experiencing so many incredible things back-to-back, and one of my favorite travel tips for Europe is centered on helping you preserve them.
If you’re not big on huge time commitments, I can highly recommend my One Line a Day Journal.
I’ve kept mine for over 5 years now and have now moved onto my second volume, and my full journal is one of my most cherished possessions.
It only takes a couple of minutes each day, and I adore the memories that it has helped me preserve in detail.
Don’t forget to leave some extra room in your luggage.
Because you’re not coming all the way to Europe to leave without doing a little souvenir shopping, right?
Ideally, bring luggage you’re comfortable carrying.
This doesn’t necessarily have to mean a backpack, of course–but at the very least, one of our tips for traveling Europe is to be prepared to navigate a few train stations, airports, quick walks through the city, and staircases with your luggage in hand.
If you have mobility concerns that prevent this, be sure to budget for door-to-door transfers and transportation on days when you switch locations.