Going to Europe is thrilling and exhilarating…and costly. When you get there, you want to be able to have the time of your life, immerse yourself in another culture, and have a great experience. To do this, planning is key. Here are my top travel tips for Europe so you can have a stress-free trip. Whether it’s your first trip to Europe or you’ve been there many times, I hope they help when planning your next European vacation.
- Master the euro conversion game. Don’t listen to those who say to convert euro at a bank or auto club before going on a trip. Those places may say they will give you a good deal, but they don’t. Nor do the places at the airports. Get a bank account (Charles Schwab is a good one or try your local credit union) that has no foreign transaction fees and no currency exchange fees (look for both) so you can take money out of the ATM when you get to Europe for the best rate–the current “euro to dollar” exchange rate which fluctuates daily (xe.com is good to find current rates). My blog on “Euro to Dollar Conversion” helps clear things up.
- Make sure your credit card is right for travel. You may also want to get a credit card that also has no foreign transaction fees and no currency exchange fees, too. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a good card and has travel insurance benefits, but does have an annual fee. I find it’s worth the fee because of the other benefits ($50 hotel credit, travel insurance, generous rewards, etc.). There is a link below to learn more. My blog on the euro covers the situation thoroughly.
- Let your credit card and debit card banks know you will be abroad so your cards work with no interruption. Nothing would be worse than getting to Europe and having your cards not work (and having to make an expensive international call) because the bank thought they were being used fraudulently and froze them for your safety.
- Have your phone situation figured out. International phone plans can be outrageous. Nonetheless, you will probably want to get their international travel plan. For a free alternative, I use WhatsApp for my calls and texts, which runs on wi-fi or data. Many businesses in Europe use WhatsApp so you can call them without using your minutes on your phone, too. My WhatsApp blog explains the app better.
- Bring the right 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 or leave them at home. Your lodging will provide a hair dryer so I wouldn’t bring one (saves packing space and concerns if it will actually convert). I’ve had hair styling tools operate so hot that I thought they would short-circuit (and burn my hair) because they didn’t convert to the voltage as well as one would expect from a dual-voltage tool.
- Pack light. Make a good packing list that plans for the type of clothes you will need for the places you plan to visit/dine in. In many churches, you are required to have your shoulders covered, so if you’re wearing a sleeveless top in the summer bring along a lightweight scarf or short-sleeved cardigan for those instances. It’s a good idea to upload a copy of your packing list to your phone. If your bag is lost, the list will help you with insurance. 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. Here are more packing tips and tips on how to pack everything in a carry-on.
- Reserve attractions in advance. When planning, I advise that you watch videos, do your homework, learn about local events, and don’t plan too much for the time frame. Many of Europe’s most famous attractions need to booked in advance. I’ve heard horror stories of people who went all the way to their dream location only to not see everything they wanted only because the tickets had sold out months before. Don’t miss out on the Colosseum, Eiffel Tour, Vatican Museum, or other hot spots! Find out how to get tickets ahead of time–either by booking online, getting a multi-attraction pass, or taking a tour with skip-the-line access.
- Take tours. A great way to see a city, get behind the scenes access, skip-the-lines, and have a local European guide show you around is to take a tour. I recommend our friends at the Tour Guy, but check out the tours in the place you are going to see what looks exciting to you.
- For the English language, look for the Union Jack. If you’re at a kiosk (train station, airport, etc.) and it’s in a language you don’t recognize, look for the British flag to get the English language version.
- Tipping and other cultural differences. Tipping in Europe is incredibly different than in the States; it is not near as much as it is in the US, if anything. It is not a percentage and not everyone in service gets tipped like in the States. Workers there get paid a fair wage, so they don’t expect a set percentage on top of the bill. You may be charged a cover charge or service charge, but generally those are indicated on the menu. Rick Steves has a great blog on tipping.
- Bring a washcloth. I’ve found that many European hotels don’t have washcloths so I’ve learned to bring my own.
- Expect an occasional strike. In Italy, I learned that small nuisance strikes (lasting for just a few hours) are normal. You may also want to find out what the culture you are visiting finds bad luck or what words or actions are insulting/dirty so that no big mistakes are made.
- Learn about local scams in the area. Every major city has its popular scam, whether it’s getting you to sign a petition (where you’ve just agreed to donate money) or trying to force you to buy a bracelet someone has slipped on your wrist. Know them ahead of time to avoid them.
- Make a food allergy card. If you or a loved one has food allergies, print out a list of what they are allergic to in the dominant language of the country you are visiting. Cut it down to credit card size and carry it with you (I have my husband’s laminated). Show it at restaurants so they know what will cause harm.
- Golden Rule: Send digital copies to yourself of all travel documents, your itinerary, your passport copies, maps, your packing list, 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.
So now that you’ve learned my top travel tips for Europe I hope you go and make memories to last a lifetime…or until your next European adventure.
Other Travel Tips: https://roaminghistorian.com/travel-tips/
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