You’re dying to go to Europe but are solo on a budget? It’s OK – you’re not alone. Budgets are important to a lot of us, but if planned wisely they don’t have to be something that holds
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BELGIUM TRAVEL GUIDE
Hello, my name is Gwen, and here is my Belgium travel guide for over 40 solo travel, including budget, safety/female and eco-travel tips, photographs and interesting posts for your Belgium travel planning.
BIENVENUE EN BELGIQUE
WELCOM IN BELGIË
WILLKIMMEN IN BELGIEN!
Belgium – the capital of Europe – home to the EU headquarters – and home to chocolate, waffles, fries, jenever, the Battlefields of Flanders, La Grand Place of Brussels, the Bruges canals, Ghent’s Gravensteen fort and Cathedral of St. Bavo, chocolate, the Flemish masterpiece The Ghent Altarpiece, Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, art nouveau architecture, Waterloo, the Meuse Valley, and, of course, the over 800 varieties of beer! Did I mention chocolate?
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LANGUAGES IN BELGIUM
Belgium has three official languages. Dutch is the official language of the Flemish Region, French is the official language of the Brussels-Capital Region, and German, which is spoken by less than 1% of the population.
How's Your French?
Brush up on your French before your trip to Belgium.
Even through Belgians have more than one official language they share a common culture in addition to their communal cultures. Located in western Europe, Belgium is bordered by France, Germany, Luxembourg and Netherlands, adding to its diversity. The majority of Belgians are Roman Catholic, and all reside under a federal parliamentary democracy, like the U.K., under a constitutional monarch. Belgium is an egalitarian society so it is not uncommon for a woman to not change her name when married. Belgians are well-educated and all official languages are taught in schools. Belgians place high importance on the family. Belgians enjoy socializing at restaurants, but the home is mostly reserved for family or close friends.
POPULAR BELGIAN ACTIVITIES
Belgians enjoy a number of sports, the most popular being football, cycling, and tennis. Surrounded by many countries the Belgians are fortunate to enjoy a variety of international cuisines of neighboring countries, but it is best known for its chocolate, waffles, fries and beer, the national beverage. One of Belgium’s national dishes is mussels and fries (moules and frites) – very yummy. There is a rich history of art and architecture and depending on where and when you are in Belgium you can experience a festival that may focus on the season or their history. For a country that can fit into the southwest region of Virginia, it has a lot cultural diversity to offer.
Belgium uses the Euro (€). Exchange rates are usually favorable for Europeans but could fluctuate in the other direction. Check throughout your travel planning phase on any exchange rate changes.
Belgium has all modern forms of transportation, including Uber (research in advance if they are in your destination area), and other regional ridesharing services and apps, so getting around and booking transportation in advance or working on the fly, is no problem.
TIPPING IN BELGIUM
Traveling in a new country is easier when you know the country’s tipping etiquette in advance as each country has its own rules. That said, country rules and norms can shift, so here is an international tipping resource for over 70 countries to use as a general guideline that I have found is constantly updated.
What’s not on there is how to tip a concierge, beauty salons or spas, travel or tour guides, etc. For these extras, it is acceptable to tip 10% at minimum. Remember, tipping is for good service only.
Additionally, you should always tip in the local currency (if tipping in cash), and do not be offended if your tip is refused as it may not be the norm. I feel it’s always better to offer a tip for good service than not, unless I know it will be considered offensive, like in Japan.
A key activity to do in your early planning stage is to know, at minimum, the national holidays. I so suggest also looking into the local holidays. It’s a complete bummer to spend time and money to take the holiday of your lifetime and when you show up at one of your key attractions, it’s closed due to a holiday. It’s also not fun trying to travel and have a hard time accessing travel or other essential resources when no one is around because, yes, it’s a local holiday. So take just a few moments to look at Belgium’s holidays.
Besides money, required ID and your ticket, Belgium voltage is 230V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz, so bring Type C and E adapters (it doesn’t hurt to bring 2 of each) for Belgium outlets and research if your electronics require a voltage converter, if not already included in the adapter; or, you can bring electronics already adapted for Belgium outlets or wait to purchase them there (I recommend just bringing the adapters with converter). Remember, most smart phones, tablets and laptops don’t require a converter, but double-check your device(s) before you leave home. If you are going to another country in addition to Belgium on your trip, you can check the global adapters list to make sure you’re prepared. I have also provided suggested adapters below for your convenience!
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TRAVEL DOCUMENTS FOR BELGIUM
From the U.S., you will need a valid passport. Visa’s are not required if your stay is less than 3 months. Make sure your passport expiration date is greater than 3 months from your return to the U.S. The U.S. State Department always has their link up to date with pertinent information when traveling to Belgium. It is advised to always check there during your planning stage and again before you leave. If you are not from the U.S., please check your government’s website.
VACCINATIONS FOR BELGIUM
There are normally no vaccinations required for Belgium travel. The U.S. State Department always has their link up to date with pertinent information when traveling to Belgium. It is advised to always check there during your planning stage and again before you leave. If you are not from the U.S., please check your government’s website.
SAFETY / FEMALE TRAVEL TIPS
BELGIUM TRAVEL SAFETY
For the most part, Belgium is considered a safe place to visit. Street crime is unlikely. Beyond any possible theft or pickpocketing, which could happen in most tourist places to be honest, there is nothing I can recall from Belgium making it more of a “safety concern” than traveling in my own home country, so my standard tips for female and solo travelers are:
- always carry photo ID with you; if you don’t want your passport on you at all times, at least carry a copy of it.
- always be “street wise”.
- always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you feel the need to imbibe or feel the need to “let loose” – you’re on vacation so have fun!
- never leave your food or drink unattended.
- keep your belongs on your person, or at least in your view in close proximity, at all times.
- be open to meeting and talking with new people – that is where a lot of the travel experience lies – but be careful on how you divulge personal information.
- research places in advance, if possible, so you know what to expect (i.e., “have a familiar view” – I like to Google the street view of new addresses I’m going to first).
- if something, someone or someplace makes you feel uncomfortable, go with your gut – leave.
BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS
BEST TIME TO VISIT BELGIUM
Like other countries in Europe, Belgium’s high, tourist season, and most expensive time, is the summer (late June to August). Crowds are not as heavy in the Spring (April to early June) and Fall (September and October), and prices in these months are lower than the summer season. The least expensive time to go to Belgium would be November to March. For overall best weather and prices, try booking well in advance for Spring or Autumn but keep in mind the Spring weather can still be chilly (high 50’s to 60’s F) so, plan on wearing layers.
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SUSTAINABILITY / ECO TRAVEL TIPS
It is very easy to do your part for the planet and implement environmental sustainability into your travel. If you would like to learn more about how you can implement environmentally sustainable, or eco-friendly, travel measures into your travel, please see my 10 Easy Eco Travel Tips and suggested Eco Travel Resources.
Additionally, if you are flying to, or within, Belgium consider purchasing carbon offsets through your airline or through a third party, like MyClimate.org, Carbonfund.org, or terrapass. Carbon offsetting allows you to buy a certificate to reduce carbon emissions, a major contributor to climate change, which in turn contribute community projects across countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There are several ways to go about this to help reduce your impact to climate change through your travel. Check it out!
When I backpacked Europe in ’95, I was to spend my last couple of days in Brussels before my U.S. flight departed. Unfortunately, I was having so much fun with my newly-made Aussie friend in Ireland, I only made it back to the Brussels’ airport late at night before my morning flight. Too late to do anything I decided to sleep in the airport. Boring, right? It was quiet and uncrowded. Then in the middle of the night I caught some activity out of the corner of my eye. People were crowding in a circle around the ticket counter. Pictures were being taken. Then I could see who they were crowding around: Dikembe Mutombo. He was pretty hard to miss considering he is 7’ 2”. He was with his family, all dressed in beautifully colored clothing, assumingly heading home. Airline employees were lining up for pictures. I had to get in on that. I waited my turn and he smiled at me. If you have ever seen Dikembe smile you’ll know it’s big and beautiful. I told him I had just moved from Boulder and seen him on TV as a Denver Nugget, with whom he was still playing, and asked if I could have my picture taken with him. He graciously put his arm around my shoulder while the airline employee took our picture. I came up to his armpit. No Brussels sight-seeing for me, but I still have that picture!
I finally made it back to Belgium in 2017. So glad I did. Among the must-sees of Brussels, Ghent and Bruges, high on my list were the Madonna and Child – the only piece of Michelangelo’s to leave Italy during his lifetime – and The Ghent Altarpiece by van Eyck. Both pieces I studied in art school. It’s amazing to be able to see art in Europe first hand that you studied from a book or a slide show. Once again, Belgium was my last stopping point before going home, and it’s really a good thing because who wants to worry about how they look back at home after all of the beer and chocolate consumption?