Going to Europe is thrilling and exhilarating…and for many of us it hasn’t been possible for quite some time. I first wrote this post in March of 2020. And then the world shut down. I put it on hold (for what I thought was only going to be a couple of weeks) to be revisited when travel to Europe from the States would be possible again and there was a safe vaccine to protect us against Covid-19. Thankfully, I think the time has come for me to push the “publish” button on this post; it looks like the European Union will allow vaccinated Americans to travel there this summer. Now might be the time you are starting to prep your trip, so here are some of my top travel tips for Europe to get you ready for the time of your life and help make your trip easier in this chaotic pandemic world.
- Study up. I make a list of places that I can’t miss and then map them out so I can efficiently see them without a lot of backtracking. I always think I will remember what I wanted to see, but when I get to Europe I’m so excited that it’s nice to have my list handy to focus and avoid missing out.
- Reserve tickets and tours ahead of time. You don’t want to spend your limited time standing in line waiting to get in. And for some popular sites, you just cannot book on site (this is especially true now that many venues have restrictions on capacity). Reserving ahead saves time, money, and ensures that you will have a spot to see what you flew over the Atlantic Ocean to see.
- Try to balance one or two “big” attractions a day with smaller activities, such as exploring shops, wandering down lanes, going on city walks, visiting parks, and other smaller activities. Following this plan allows me to see the main attractions as well as experience the lesser-known parts of a city.
- Have your phone situation figured out. International phone plans can be outrageous. I like to use WhatsApp for my calls and texts, which runs on wi-fi or data. In my “Travel Tips” section (link below) there is a blog explaining this better.
- Let your credit card and bank know you will be abroad so your cards work with no interruption.
- Master the euro conversion game. I hear lots of bad advice on travel forums about what to do regarding getting euro before a trip. Generally, I advise to just get a bank account with no foreign transaction fees/no currency exchange fees and take money out of the ATM when you get to Europe. This way the exchange rate will be the only difference between your dollar and the euro. Many banks, auto clubs, etc. will say they can get you euro for a good deal, but then they charge you a higher exchange rate than the going rate in order to recoup their costs for not charging a fee. Pointedly ask them what the exchange rate will be and any fees. If the rate is different than the stated currency exchange rate, you will know they are putting a hidden fee in there. My blog on the euro covers the situation thoroughly (see Travel Tips section).
- Prep for how you will get from the airport to your lodging. Will you take a taxi, train, shuttle bus? There isn’t a “one size fits all” solution to this, so you will want to explore the place you’re going and what is most effective for you. You know yourself best, so pick transportation that fits your budget and your threshold for DIY-travel.
- Make a good packing list that plans for the type of clothes that you will need for the places you plan to visit/dine in. In many churches, you are required to have your shoulders covered, so I make sure to bring along a lightweight scarf for those instances. It’s a good idea to upload a copy of your packing list to your phone and to take a picture of the interior of your packed bag. If your bag is lost, the list and the picture will help you as you’re standing at the airport trying to answer the question “What was in your bag?” Even if no baggage disaster occurs, I still like to consult my list before coming home to make sure I leave with what I came.
- Bring electrical adapters. Most of Europe has the same adapter for a two-pronged outlet, but Great Britain has a three-pronged one. Make sure your electrical devices will convert to European voltage. I’ve fried hair styling tools before because the voltage is 220 volts in Europe and they weren’t strong enough for it (even though the box stated they would convert). I no longer even bring these items and just use the ones available at the lodging I rent. Speaking of energy, if you get to your hotel room and can’t figure out how to turn on the lights, you may need to put the key card in the light-switch or slot near the door. Some rooms, in order to be more energy-efficient, have you put the key card in so that you don’t leave the lights on when you’re gone.
- Learn some basic phrases in the dominant language. You don’t need to be fluent by any means, but it helps to know how to say “thank you” and some other basic phrases. I think Duolingo is a fun and educational app for learning a foreign language. Also, learn what terms are rude or dorky. For instance, going around saying “mamma mia” in Italy sounds like you’re making fun of them. Try to learn proper pronunciations of popular words, e.g. bruschetta is pronounced “brew-skett-ah” not “brew-shett-ah.”
Golden Rule: Send digital copies to yourself of all travel documents, your itinerary, your passport copies, maps, and everything else that you may need and then save the most important pieces to your phone so you can pull up the document/picture in an instant—even if you don’t have internet connectivity.
I hope these international travel tips heighten your next journey and your Europe trip is the best it can be. Happy travels!
Link to my “Travel Tips” page which includes posts on how to find best restaurants, taking tours, finding cheap flights, packing light, choosing Airbnbs, converting euros to dollars, which map apps to use, Whatsapp, picking the best hotels, and booking best vacation rentals: https://roaminghistorian.com/travel-tips/
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