Whether or not you follow the ups and downs of the European Union, one thing we call all agree upon is that having one currency for the whole continent is awesome - except that much of Central Europe is not actually on the Euro. That's right, even if many of these countries are members, they may not actually use the same currency. So get ready for a crash course in exchange rates and money changing. As of 2018, Austria, Slovenia, and Slovakia use the Euro while Poland uses the zloty, Czechia (formerly Czech Republic) uses the koruna, Hungary uses the forint, and Croatia uses the kuna. While exchange kiosks will charge a surcharge for the convenience of getting local cash, protect yourself by knowing the actual exchange rate before arriving. ATMs probably charge $3-$5 for transactions so taking out a good chunk of money here will likely mean savings over kiosks. Just don't get more than you'll spend during your stay or you'll be doing the whole dance again when you leave.
Don't Overlook Buses
Everyone traveling in Europe utilizes the network of convenient trains, right? I mean, it's what they're known for! While trains can be a very good option, we've been pleasantly surprised by the discount bus services, such as FlixBus, who often get you to your destination quicker than a train for a fraction of the price. Some of the finer amenities may be lacking compared to train service, but what more do you really need than a comfy seat, wifi, and access to a toilet? Are we still just talking about transportation, or did we just drop a major life truth on you?
Find Secret Gems, but Don't Expect English Speakers
It's easy to get spoiled these days with so many tourist destinations having a bevy of hosts excited to practice their English with you. If you're like us and enjoy getting off the beaten path, be ready to struggle through directions or a restaurant order if you don't have some of the local language ready to go. Remember that you're a guest in their country and learning their local customs. Enjoy the experience and have a laugh if you accidentally order an entire plate of sliced tomatoes in a small village somewhere (they were very tasty, just unexpected).
Smoking or Non-Smoking?
I can't tell you how long it had been since I'd been asked my smoking preference at a restaurant. Much of the US no longer allows smoking inside public buildings, but Central Europe will be a throwback in this regard as smoking is still a very big thing. While we don't enjoy breathing in second hand smoke either, this may be another situation that you simply have to consider part of the experience. Smoking is still part of the culture here so do your best to stay upwind.
Maybe, like us, you were hoping to do lots of hiking through Central Europe on your way to a leaner, more toned self. That sounds great, in theory, until you realize that much of the local cuisine in this part of the world revolves around meat, cheese, bread, and most of the other unhealthy things. Don't get me wrong, it tastes amazing! Just set your expectations for a steady dose of butter soaked everything. One good piece of news is that they love cucumbers which (ahem) keep things moving in the right direction. So stick to that whole portion control idea as you sample all the things, and hopefully you can end your trip at a net zero.