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If you’re like me, you might need to know more than 10 things before you head to Romania. Like, where exactly it is, what language they speak, what there is to do there, what currency they use, how expensive it is, what type of plugs they use, what side of the road do they drive on, etc.
Yes, I researched all of those things because even though I had a general idea about Romania, I quickly realized that those general ideas wouldn’t get me far.
I found some great articles online and spoke to people who knew people. But as with most travel, experience is the best teacher.
If you’re thinking about traveling to Romania, these 10 things might save you a little time and heartache. And if you aren’t thinking about traveling to Romania, maybe this will change your mind.
1. Get creative with your flights.
Getting there is expensive. Staying there is not. So your flights will probably be your biggest expense. Because we only planned this trip about five weeks before we left, we had to find the best flights and BOOK THEM.
I used Google Flights and Kayak and Expedia and every airline site imaginable. And I found my two best options were not American carriers and didn’t fly through common European connection cities like London or Frankfurt.
My best options were on Qatar Airways through Doha and Turkish Airlines through Istanbul. I wasn’t too keen to travel through the Middle East but mainly because it was out of the way. (I flew on Etihad Airlines last year to Saudi Arabia and they were fantastic!).
We ended up flying through Istanbul which not only made for a super convenient connection but we also picked up some pretty rad souvenirs like Turkish delight (and my new favorite pants). Also, it’s a beautiful airport!
2. English is widely spoken.
I always try to pick up a few phrases before traveling to a non-native-English speaking country. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my favorite language app, Duolingo, offered Romanian!
Turns out that it wasn’t really all that necessary. English is widely spoken and printed. Everyone at the airport and at the hotel spoke English. Everyone that worked at restaurants spoke English. The menus were generally printed in both Romanian and English. And even when I tried to order in Romanian, they’d reiterate my order in English.
When visiting attractions, most of the signs are printed in Romanian, English, and another language like French. Communication was never an issue but I still think a mulţumesc! (thank you) goes a long way,
3. Driving isn’t that scary (but it is fast).
I agonized for days and days over whether or not I should rent a car or book a private tour. I knew parking in the city of Bucharest is a nightmare so the car would stay parked at the hotel. And my hotel offered free parking. But the horror stories of Romanian highways and back roads are everywhere!
If you believe the stories, you will think that everyone drives like a maniac and that having a fatal crash is a near certainty. But having a car gives you the freedom to explore on your own at your own pace. And it’s cheap! I found places renting cars for $3 a day – not to say that THAT is necessarily a good idea.
In the end, I didn’t want to think about driving and didn’t want the stress. So I booked a few tours and let someone else do the driving. After spending time on the highway and back roads, I think I’d feel totally comfortable driving in Romania. But if you’re not an aggressive driver, leave the driving to someone else.
4. Uber is easy.
As I mentioned, even if I’d had a car, it would stay parked while I was in and around the city of Bucharest. For city transit, I fully planned to walk or take taxis. I ended up walking and taking the subway (easy and cheap!) but the few times I needed transportation, I used Uber.
Uber has a relatively new feature that lets you share your ride information with someone else. Use it. And always make sure the license plate and driver in the app matches the person who is picking you up. But that’s advice I’d give you for traveling anywhere in the world.
Oh, and it’s easy and cheap. See a theme here?
5. Book tours for what you want to see.
I had limited time. Only 3 full days for touring and sightseeing. And when I decided not to rent a car, I knew I needed to book tours. I relied on Viator, A TripAdvisor Company, for all my tours in Romania which some of my travel friends has used in the past.
Normally, I’m anti-tours. I envision a bunch of blue hairs hopping on a motorcoach and stopped at super touristy places. Apparently, I’ve misunderstood how touring in Europe works. Viator Tours is the broker for many local tour companies and the tours they offer are usually small group or even private.
We knew we wanted to see Bucharest on our own but also ended up booking a tour to see Palace of Parliament, a popular attraction. You can call and schedule a specific tour time directly with them but I wanted to just show up and have someone handle all of the details for me. And I was able to book this one while we were in Romania the day before we went (Bonus: our tour liaison gave us a quick history of the political system in Romania!)
We also knew we wanted to see the Big 3: Peles Castle, Bran Castle, and Brasov, a commonly combined day trip from Bucharest. With Viator Tours, I looked at multiple tour companies offering the same tour. They were similar in nature and varied in pricing. In the end, I booked a more expensive private tour because the reviews were so good. WORTH. IT.
6. Carry cash – here’s why.
For bigger items, like a big restaurant meal or a tour for the day, credit cards are perfectly fine. And most shops that I visited also accept credit cards. (Pro tip: Make sure your credit card doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees and be sure to let them know the dates you’re traveling abroad).
Throughout Romania, you’ll find food stalls and markets. You’ll want to be able to buy a warm cup of red wine and a pastry for $4, like I did. But you’ll also want to be able to provide a cash tip if you’re paying by credit card (there’s no way to do that on the card). Plan to give a 10% tip wherever you have service – at a restaurant, for a driver, or even your tour guide.
7. Prepare yourself for the food.
Traveling to Romania, or any European country for that matter, had my mouth salivating. And then I tasted the food.
This is, of course, a matter of preference but I was not impressed by the food at all. At. All.
Romanian food involves a lot of meat – think lamb, sausages, pork chops. And it’s very heavy. If you’re vegan, I weep for you. There just wasn’t anything memorable and I found myself hungry, more often than not. My advice is to stay away from tourist restaurants and maybe Romanian food altogether. We went for Italian one night and had a great, cheap meal!
8. The beer is cheap (and the wine is pretty good).
As is often the case in Europe, beer is typically cheaper than soda. And the Romanian beer is actually quite good. If you like a good lager, you’ll like Ursus, a typical Romanian beer. But I even had the chance to try Zaganu, a Romanian microbrew.
You can also even find really cheap beer in a local grocery store. One store had a plastic 3 liter bottle of beer for $1.50. (NO, I did not try it, no matter how great the temptation.)
And if you don’t drink beer, you can get some inexpensive cocktails and enjoy wine from all over. But to get the true Romanian experience, try a local wine. I actually thought it was quite good!
9. Ask for wifi wherever you go.
When I’m traveling in an unknown location, access to data is essential. Traveling to Romania was no different.
I used Google Maps nonstop! With my cell carrier, Verizon, I can use the TravelPass option on an as-needed basis for just $10 per day. But there is a limit to the data so I used wifi as much as possible.
Wifi is found almost everywhere but it’s not always on an open, unsecured network. It’s usually available in a store or restaurant or hotel for customers so be sure to ask for the wifi password. Some places, like the coffee shop we visited, simply displayed it on a sign at the register.
10. Just say yes!
If I’d never said yes in the first place, I would even be writing this. I had all the excuses in the world not to go including:
- It’s too expensive!
- What’s in Romania anyway?
- Do they even speak English?
- Can I pull my son out of school?
- Who will watch the pets?
Well, I figured out all the answers to those questions and just said yes. And that didn’t stop once we got there. We walked through the park and couldn’t find a place to eat. We were literally right next to a subway station so we said YES and ended up in Old Town Bucharest, full of cafes and restaurants.
After our meal of Italian, we had an hour until the Romanian Kitsch Museum closed, so we said YES! And had a fun and unusual experience in Bucharest.
When we got back to the hotel each night, exhausted, my son asked if we could once again go to the hotel pool and I said YES (sometimes begrudgingly).
If traveling to Romania is potentially in your future, say YES.
And when traveling in general, try to say yes to every opportunity and experience and you’ll come back with more than just photos and memories!