For the North American Bartender, heading to Europe is an eye-opening experience. A few Travel Hacks when heading to EU can be essential to a good experience.
Being resourceful conversationalist, bartenders are personable and some of the best travel companions.
So, after crossing the pond for more than one bartender pilgrimage, we have found some “travel hacks” that will improve how your time’s spent. We won’t be telling you where to go or who to see, but rather 10 points to guide your travel experiences:
#1 – Airline Cocktails, make them;
KLM Royal Dutch Genever Negroni to Launch Negroni Week
When the liquid restrictions came into effect on planes, things changed. Everyone who had received a mini promotional bottle had the same thought. They are 50 ml each and fit perfectly in that bag they give you. You can also bring a lot more than 100 ml of each with the right portion bottles. The trick to airplane cocktails is a little planning.
Most of your tickets include spirits, wine and mixers for your meals on a plane. They essentially have a well of spirits for you to work with. The travel hack is to bring your favourite extra ingredients. You can get the gin on board, so bring Campari and Vermouth for your Negroni. Love Manhattans? Bring the Sweet Vermouth and bitters and use the whisky on board as your variation.
I will admit that I now bring all my ingredients, but do use the spirits on the plane for some random fun as well.
Expert Pro Tip #1 – With all this being said, this travel hack is not about getting blotto on a plane. Controlled consumption to help with digestion, flavour and nutrition should be the main motivations. Although the pain relief from screaming babies and stressed out people are nice benefits.
#2 – Airline Loyalties, get them;
After playing with all the websites and becoming a hawk for the sales at flightnetwork.com, something had to give. I just found that it was just not worth the small savings after all the wasted time and charges for changes.
A few years back I looked at the math and the benefits of the discount websites vs. creating loyalty with a singular system. Finding loyalty with direct brands instead of shell websites has always proved to pay off.
Take the Flying Blue Plan from KLM/Air France, they have global flight and hotel partners, and they track every mile. You get incentives at milestones and you don’t have to deal with a general purpose call center when you call for changes. You also don’t get charged many fees or upgrades. The list goes on. You just have to think a little more long-term.
Like a good regular at your bar; showing loyalty will improve the experience. Sometimes travel hacking is actually just being a damn good customer.
#3 – Duty Free, avoid it;
Duty Free can seem like a veritable treasure trove of products that you can take home. Last minute or limited time buys seem super enticing. If you need something last-minute, I can see the value, if you must.
The Travel hack is to plan and pack the booze treasures of Europe long before the Duty free.
Duty free is like everything in an airport, marked up for “convenience”. You chance losing everything on your connection if you cannot re-pack it for customs. Most importantly, the choice is not any better than local shops in the towns you are visiting.
Hack the Duty Free by being ready and packing your purchases. Finding better local selections outside of the airport. Preparing for declaring them at your customs is truly the best practice. Duty free is a bloody hassle, that can be barely worth it most times.
#4 – Irish Pubs, feel at home in them;
Irish Pub in Austria
They all look the same. They play the same music. They have karaoke at least once a week and you can find a Kilkenny or a Guinness. While spending time travelling, working and moving around the EU, the comforts of your past can go a long way.
The Irish Pub is the bartender’s haven, the after shift haunt and the between pub for every great experience.
A familiar face
No matter the stress or challenges of your travels, you can feel at home in the Irish Pub. Nearly every town in every language on the planet has at least one. The beer will nearly taste the same too;)
#5 – European Sauna & Baths, hangover in them;
Kaiser Freidreich Wiesbaden
Inevitably you will over consume on some random adventure in Europe. The opportunity to drink “too much” will come up, trust me.
Over consuming Riesling on the Rhine. “Sipping” Polish Vodka with orange juice in Warsaw (or on the side of the highway). Losing yourself in Torino at the bottom of a bottle of vermouth can all cause serious hangovers.
It’s all worth it. They also have the cure.
The European baths (Roman and otherwise) are a godsend to the hangover. A mixture of Scandinavian Sauna, mixed with Sports rehabilitation pools and a dash of new age light therapy.
It is hard to explain, but you bring a robe, get naked with strangers. Sweat, rub salt on yourself, shower in public, swim naked in freezing water (yep..), and hot tub in natural salt baths.
Take a break with some water, a beer, a bite to eat and wrap up and pay before you leave.
You feel like royalty when you leave and you didn’t pay for it. The experience typically runs hourly rates with pricing on menu items. Thirty euros usually covers the travel hacks hangover treatment.
#6 – The Classic Hotel Bar; drink in them;
We all know about the American Bar(s), the Savoy’s, the iconic four, five and six star establishments. Some of us work behind the bars of this type of operation. Classic architecture and beautiful art meets modern service, clashing carpets and bar snacks.
The Travel Hack for bartenders is that the classic hotel bars of the world are the best late night cocktail hideaway. When you work in the “industry” most bartender’s can tell. If they can’t, you likely break into some conversation about the craft. You’ll earn a little more respect from each other, if you play it cool.
Show professional courtesy, tip well and never fear the classic hotel bar for a late night cocktail. You may just walk into the only German Hotel with an Italian Piano player singing American jazz tunes.
#7 – Bartending Tools; leave them;
Half of the people reading this just pictured killing me with one of their favourite bar tools. It’s OK, you can admit it.
We love our tools and we love to play with them when we travel. If you don’t pack them right or find yourself in a rush, you may lose them to breakage or at the airport security line. (10 wine friends and counting..)
Between sharing tools among the friends you work with. The venues themselves. The local bartending shops you can use, you should have no issue supplementing a setup. Be flexible, and you will find what you need.
Expert Pro Tip #2 – Mixing drinks has a rich and interesting history in the EU. You can find it in the flea markets, antique shops and festival markets. Look for a vase as a mixing glass. A fun old bar spoon, authentic clam shell juleps and original sirop bottles in the hidden small shops and markets of the cities. Be careful not to spend the entire travel hacks budget on classic hand carved crystal carafe’s…
#8 – Ride Sharing, don’t be afraid to use it;
Europe is ‘small’ compared to the Americas (truism). Travel by car can be the most cost efficient way to get around because of amazing growth in the “Ride Share” programs. Take Bla Bla Car, available throughout the EU. Particularly popular in Germany, means that for you can go from Hamburg to Berlin for 16 euros.
Expert Pro Tip #3 – That means a Gin Basil Smash by Jorg Meyer at Le Lion in Hamburg. Then onto a Buck & Breck for a namesake cocktail from Goncalo de Sousa Monteiro with a short trip, for the price of the two cocktails.
Travel Hacks like ride sharing are a safe option and companies like Bla Bla give you lot’s to help to create comfort. Options like “speaks english” or Female are all available.
#9 – Skilled Thank You’s; prepare for them;
Travelling as a bartender can yield some amazing rewards. You work in service and you will feel the need to “pay someone back” for a helping hand, a ride or just to be courteous. We have a skill that is fun and in demand. Co-hosting a pop-up cocktail soiree with inspirations from the trip. Simply bringing your favourite cocktail ingredients to the party is always well received.
Consider batching and bottling a cocktail to leave behind, or just being ready to make your favourite cocktail, at all times.
The best experiences as a traveling bartender are when you collaborate and meet people. Be prepared with your favourite ingredients and charms for the next late night random cocktail party you walk into.
All travel hacks aside, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’s’ come in many forms, but just saying them is usually enough too.
#10 – Local Seasonal Ingredients, find them;
The markets of Europe are filled with the plentiful produce from the farmland and the vast import and export channels.
Culinary bartenders and chefs love the markets. Culinarians thrive on the noise, the bartering and the sheer variety.
The seasonal shifts are a fun and creative limitation that has always been part of the craft. When you travel, you challenge yourself to work outside of your own comfort zone. The travel hacks here are many, but mostly it is to exercise your craft with the ingredients of the locals.
Exploring the back bars of Germany.
Working with the best of the local season, outside of your comfort zone.
Showcasing an “American” style with EU ingredients is a fun way to make a lot of happy people.
Or challenge yourself to create and work with local, seasonal spirits, liqueurs and produce.
Travel Hack with passion, experimentation and get out of your comfort zone. Cheers.