You're planning a trip to Europe. Great! Awesome! Wow! Before you go, be in the know about what to do before, during, and after your arrival. While some of the steps to get your itinerary in order are basic and the same for a weekend getaway, when traveling internationally, there's more to it than packing your standard items.
Let's face it, if this is your first trip to Europe, there are things you just may not think of and take for granted. If you're a seasoned continent explorer, you know the drill but there might be something you've forgotten or something new to add to the list of travel tips.
Having everything in order from passports and packing to prescriptions and currency exchange - and everything in between - ensures smooth sailing or flying, whichever mode of transportation you've chosen so you can experience European capitals, cultures, climates, and more without worrying about "what's in your suitcase."
Consider this article the beginning of your short checklist of things to do. Be prepared for a fantastic and memorable experience while traveling the highways and the byways of some of Europe's top destinations, as well as those hidden gems that are found off the beaten track. Get ready to take some notes so your craving for European travel won't leave you high and dry but instead, will make for an enjoyable ride.
20 The Basis Before You Go
There are a lot of details to take care of before heading to Europe. Some are obvious while others are easily forgotten. On the medical front, visit your doctor and dentist before you go to ensure everything is A-okay and to get any refills for prescriptions before leaving. Cancel your newspaper subscription, since stacked up newspapers are a signal no one is at home. Contact your local post office to request your mail be held and take care of paying any upcoming bills prior to leaving. If boarding a pet, make reservations well in advance.
19 Credit Card Convenience
Yes, whipping out a credit card to pay for anything and everything can put your travel time in the fast lane. Whether shopping, dining, paying for train tickets, hotel rooms, and attractions, or picking up a souvenir, a credit card makes it happen in a flash. Before making your way to the departure lane to embark on your European adventure, contact your credit card company - all of them - to let them know where you're headed and for how long, and that foreign-based charges should be expected on your account.
18 Blowing in the Wind
Freedom to "travel on the fly" is great as long as you know where you'll be staying every night; guaranteed. Taking a chance that once you arrive there will be a plethora of accommodations to suit your standards is a roll of the dice that could leave you in a not-so-happy place. This is especially true if your travel schedule is during peak season or there is a major event/festival going on at the same time. Also, keep in mind you may get a better price with special deals for advance reservations.
17 Passports Passports Passports
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning a trip to Europe and sometimes things fall to the wayside and forgotten. This includes forgetting to check if your passport hasn't expired. If it's still intact, the other thing you'll need to check is the timeframe your passport is valid for once you've arrived. Some countries require a three-month timeframe while others require six months. If your passport falls short of whatever the country has as a requirement, chances are good that you will not be allowed to enter the country.
16 Planning an Itinerary
This is a difficult challenge. Why? Because you're going to Europe! You want to experience everything your destination city or cities have to offer. This is when you need to put on the brakes, take a deep breath, and ask yourself; Do you want to run yourself ragged trying to cram every tour, restaurant, and attraction in one day or would you rather pick the ones at the top of your list and allow plenty of time to enjoy each? Not over-planning and keeping the pace at a normal level means a more memorable experience.
This is a biggie. The keyword is "light", meaning, keep packing to a minimum. By packing light, you'll add a list of pluses to your travel time such as: you won't be paying for checked luggage; you'll spend no time waiting at baggage claim, your bag is with you, so it can't be lost, and it's easier to maneuver one bag and possibly a tote when using public transportation. If you aren't weighted down with tons of luggage, you'll have less worry and be free to enjoy the trip. You can also bring an empty bag along if needed after making shopping rounds.
14 Valuable Packing 101
Your valuable items such as jewelry and electronics should be listed along with a photo of each item. For electronics such as laptops, tablets, camera, or any other expensive item, list the serial number, model number, brand name along with a clear photo. Should anything happen to the items (such as theft), you will be able to provide both a visual and written record to the police as well as your insurance provider.
13 Covering the Bases
People have renter's, car, dental, health, homeowners, and life insurance to cover all the bases should something unexpected happen. It's a feel-good feeling knowing you've taken care of business. Traveling to Europe is no different. Things happen, stuff gets lost or stolen, and an accident can happen. Check with your insurance agent/carrier to find out if your home, renter's, or health insurance plans include coverage of any mishaps while you're traveling. If none of your providers have travel coverage, consider purchasing travel insurance to put your mind at ease. Less stress means a better vacation.
12 Backup Paperwork
Make a copy of any travel documents so you'll have an extra set should the originals get lost or damaged. You'll also want to leave a copy of your itinerary with a family member or friend in case of an emergency at home as well as someone having information about where you are going to be. Bring the phone numbers to your credit card companies in case cards are lost or stolen. If you're bringing prescription medication, be sure to have the name and phone number of your doctor and your insurance provider information in case you run out of meds or they are lost and you need to fill your prescription.
11 Buying a Rail Pass
If you're planning to see the sights and travel to other cities by rail, it's recommended that you purchase a rail pass. This will save you money, which you can use for other activities and attractions. It is recommended that the pass is purchased and mailed to your home prior to embarking on your trip. It will most likely be less expensive, too, versus buying it once you arrive. Having it in hand ahead of time saves time and you'll want to use every minute to the max.
10 It's Pay Time
A couple of things are important when it comes to paying for anything; use the currency for the city/area you're traveling in. Paying in U.S. dollars usually results in the exchange fee set higher. You'll also want to be careful when using ATM machines. Before leaving, contact your bank for information about the fees so you won't be surprised. Fees cover several things such as a transaction fee for processing and converting dollars, usage fees, and operator access fees. This can add up. Contact your bank to find out if they have partnered with any businesses that allow debit cards without all the fees.
9 Adapting to Europe
This one thing is so convenient, and it can save money, too. Instead of buying a slew of adaptors, go with a multi-country adaptor. One multi-unit has multiple plugs for devices and only needs one outlet versus several if you bring individual adaptors. This in itself may be problematic if your hotel room, hostel, or a cabin on a ship may be limited to one (or maybe two) outlets, which means you'll be spending extra time connecting, charging, disconnecting, and reconnecting.
8 The Young and the Restless
If you are a student, get ready to do the happy dance as you have access to an ISIC card (International Student Identity Card) that can save you money on hotels, hostels, attractions, museums, and dining while you globetrot through Europe. The ISIC card is available to order online and is for students ages 12-years old and older. For travelers ages 30 and under who are not students, the International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) is available with money-saving benefits.
7 Traveling with Kiddos
Enjoying a family vacay with the kids in Europe; what an awesome way to get an interactive education about other cultures. If you aren't sure about what is needed, ask your travel agent. In a nutshell, you'll need a current passport that meet the same requirements as yours, if only one parent is traveling, a letter of consent by the other may be required, and if your children are adopted, you'll need documentation of that fact. Each country has its own rules, so do your homework.
6 Calling All Cell Phone Plans
Before jetting or cruising away to Europe, contact your cell phone provider. Don't assume your phone will work with your current plan. It may work, but it may not. While you shouldn't have a problem connecting with Wi-Fi due to its plentiful availability in Europe, it's possible you will need to sign up for an international plan. Your provider can tell you what coverage you have while in Europe as well as any up-charge to usage and/or additional fees, if applicable.
5 Adapting to Europe
Along with ensuring your cellphone is internationally capable and ready to rock, you may want to add a few apps to make sure you're also ready to roll in the right direction. Unless you're traveling with a guided tour group, finding your way around an unfamiliar city can be daunting, and if you don't speak the language, that's another hurdle to overcome. A couple of apps that can make it a little easier is Google Maps, to help with navigation, and Google Translate to help translate signs, menus, and street signs and it doesn't require that you be connected to the i-net.
4 Drive Time
There are going to be adventures and destinations awaiting that you may want to drive to versus taking the train, shuttle, or cab. If you're planning to rent a car, be aware of what the driving requirements are as well as the rules of the road. In all countries, you will need to have a valid driver's license. In European countries such as Spain, Greece, and Italy technically you will need an International Driving Permit. Know before you go what's needed in your destination locations.
3 To See or Not See Popular Attractions - That is the Question
You're going to Europe for a reason. Even if it's to go to an annual event such as Wimbledon or the Venice Carnival, you're visiting places that have a long history and plenty of places that will take you back to another time. To do this you must first admit you're a tourist and then go with the flow to see iconic places. Think of it this way, who would go to Rome and not visit the Colosseum? Don't deny yourself the experience of popular attractions.
2 The Roads Less Traveled
The flip side of the "visit popular attractions" coin is putting aside enough time to explore off the beaten track locations. This gives you the opportunity to really "see" what a city/country has to offer by going to places frequented by locals and immersing yourself in the culture. Start a conversation and ask questions. Folks are generally more than happy to share information and stories about their community, town, village, or city. You may find you'll come away from the encounter with a better understanding and appreciation of the people and the country, and maybe even make some new friends.
1 As the World Turns - Security
While traveling to Europe is a hot commodity enjoyed by the masses, you must take precautions and be aware regardless of the city or country you're visiting. Use common sense about broadcasting valuables or flashing cash and don't put yourself in a position where you're isolated and alone, especially at night. On the world security front, check the destination you're traveling to before you go for any security alerts in force in the area. Also, register with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) for free.