Bonjour, Hola, Hallo, Ciao! Welcome, first-time travellers! If you're reading this, chances are you're about to embark on an exciting journey. Yes, you're getting ready for that dream trip: travelling to Europe for the first time. I can almost feel your heart fluttering with anticipation, the thrill of visiting historical landmarks, sampling delicious local cuisine, and immersing yourself in the rich culture and diverse languages of Europe. It's no small feat, and I salute you for taking this giant leap into the world of travel!
But I know it's not all butterflies and rainbows. You're probably swamped with a million questions. Where to start? What to pack? How to find the best deals on flights? Is it safe? How to communicate in a foreign language? And the list goes on. It can feel like navigating a complex maze without a map. But fear not, you've come to the right place.
Your Guide to Europe
This comprehensive Europe travel guide is crafted specifically for you. It's designed to ease any travel jitters, answer all those burning questions, and equip you with the best tips to make your first Europe trip memorable. I'll cover everything from flights, accommodation, packing, sightseeing, food, safety, and even how to handle culture shock. All the information is from experience or carefully researched and curated to ensure you have the most enjoyable and stress-free trip possible.
Bookmark this page! There is a ton of information here full of travel tips, and a lot of great reference links. Everything from insurance and visa, to wear to book and more!
So, sit back, relax, and let's get ready to embark on this journey together. With this guide at your side, travelling to Europe for the first time will feel less like a daunting task and more like the exciting adventure it should be. Let's dive in!
Hey, travel enthusiasts! Just a quick heads-up. Some of the links you'll see sprinkled throughout this post? They're affiliate links. This means if you click and make a purchase, I'll earn a small commission at absolutely no extra cost to you.
You're not just supporting me, but also my ability to provide you with all these fantastic travel insights. Now, I only advocate for stuff I truly adore, so rest assured, these recommendations are top-notch!
So, if you're gearing up for your next adventure and want to support this site, feel free to click away! Who knew helping out could be so seamless? 😉
Some people just want to say thanks by buying me a coffee. I do love coffee. Like a lot. I have seven different ways to make coffee at home....okay maybe it's an obsession.
Thank you for your support and here's to your wanderlust!"
Planning Your First Trip to Europe
Embarking on your first European adventure can be both exhilarating and a bit daunting. But don't worry, we've got your back. Here, we'll delve into the essentials of planning your first trip to Europe, covering everything from initial research to picking the perfect travel season.
Research is Your Best Friend
When planning your first trip to Europe, research will be your best friend. This research can be divided into two categories: practical information and inspiration. You need practical information about visas, the best times to visit, the cost of travelling, and what to pack, among other things. On the other hand, you need inspiration to decide where you want to go and what you want to do.
Blogs often provide first-hand experiences, tips, and tricks that you won't find anywhere else.
Tourism websites are your go-to source for visa requirements, safety information, and other official details. Travel guides, both online and in print, offer comprehensive information about different destinations.
For inspiration, look at travel itineraries, photographs, and personal travel stories. Many travel blogs provide detailed itineraries that you can use as a starting point for planning your own trip.
How to Choose Which Countries to Visit
Your choice of countries to visit in Europe will depend on several factors: your interests, the time you have available, your budget, and the cost of travelling in different countries. Europe is diverse, and each country offers something unique. Whether you're interested in history, art, cuisine, nature, or adventure, there's a European country that's perfect for you.
Cost can be a significant factor in deciding where to go. Western European countries like France, the UK, and Italy tend to be more expensive than Eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Northern European countries, particularly Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, are known for their high cost of living. On the other hand, Southern European countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece offer excellent value for money, especially in the off-peak season.
The Four Regions of Europe: East, West, South, North
Europe can be divided into four broad regions: East, West, South, and North. Each region has its own unique characteristics, cultures, and attractions.
Eastern Europe includes countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Romania. This region is known for its rich history, beautiful architecture, and lower cost of living compared to the rest of Europe. It's a great choice for travellers on a budget or those who want to experience a less-touristed part of Europe.
Western Europe comprises countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. This region is home to some of Europe's most famous cities, including Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and London. It's also more expensive than Eastern Europe, but offers a wide range of experiences, from historical sites and museums to vibrant nightlife and culinary delights.
Southern Europe includes countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, and Portugal. This region is famous for its warm weather, beautiful beaches, delicious food, and rich history. It's a great choice for a summer vacation, but can also be visited in the shoulder seasons when the weather is still pleasant and the tourist crowds are smaller.
Northern Europe includes the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland) as well as the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). This region is known for its stunning natural landscapes, including fjords, forests, and the Northern Lights. It's also one of the more expensive regions in Europe, but offers unique experiences like dog sledding, ice hotels, and exploring the Arctic Circle.
Best Time to Travel to Europe: Shoulder Seasons vs. Peak Season
The best time to travel to Europe depends on your priorities. If you want the best weather and don't mind the crowds, the peak season (usually mid-June to August) is the best time to go. You'll have long, sunny days and all attractions will be open. However, prices for flights and accommodations will be at their highest.
The shoulder seasons (April to mid-June and September to October) are often considered the best times to visit Europe. The weather is generally still good, the crowds are smaller, and prices are lower than in the peak season. You'll also get to experience Europe in spring or fall, which can be particularly beautiful in certain regions.
The shoulder seasons have been my favourite time to travel to Europe. I have gone to Europe at the end of May, the beginning of June and October. It is much less busy and the weather is still great.
The off-peak season (November to March) is the least crowded time to visit Europe. You'll find the lowest prices during this time, but also colder weather and shorter days. Some attractions may also be closed or have reduced hours. However, this is also the best time for winter sports and experiencing Christmas markets in Europe.
Researching Visas and Travel Insurance
Travel Visas: Schengen and ETIAS
Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to visit certain countries in Europe. As of 2023, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is in effect. This system applies to visitors from countries that had visa-free travel to the Schengen Area, including the United States, Canada, and Australia. Before travelling, you'll need to apply for an ETIAS authorization, which is valid for three years and allows for stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
Learn more about ETIAS here.
Learn more about Schengen Visas here.
Always check the visa requirements for your specific nationality and the countries you plan to visit well in advance of your trip.
Getting Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is also an important consideration. It can cover costs associated with medical emergencies, trip cancellation, lost luggage, and other unforeseen circumstances. There are many providers to choose from, so it's worth shopping around to find the best coverage for your needs and budget. Remember to read the fine print and understand what is and isn't covered.
I like using World Nomads. Their website is easy to navigate and easy to get a quote. There are lots of choices, and you don't have to use World Nomads because I said so. Just please get insurance for your trip. I hope you never have to use it, but you'll be happy you did if you do need it.
Planning Your Itinerary
When planning your itinerary, start by listing the countries or cities you want to visit and the sights you want to see. Then consider the amount of time you have and how much you can realistically fit into your schedule. Remember to account for travel time between locations and to build in some downtime. It can be tempting to try to see everything, but you'll enjoy your trip more if you're not rushing from one place to another.
In terms of transport, Europe has an extensive and efficient public transportation network. Trains are a popular way to get around, especially for longer distances. They offer a comfortable and scenic way to travel between cities and countries. For shorter distances or more remote locations, buses and rented cars may be a better option.
Flights can also be a convenient way to cover long distances quickly, especially with the proliferation of low-cost airlines in Europe. However, when considering flights, remember to account for additional time for airport security and transportation to and from the airport. Just remember, low-cost airlines aren't low-cost once you start adding the extras, like checked luggage.
Another factor to consider when planning your itinerary is the cost of living in the places you plan to visit. As mentioned earlier, Eastern Europe tends to be cheaper than Western Europe, while Northern Europe is often the most expensive. This can affect how long you stay in each place and how much you can do.
Budgeting for Your Europe Trip
Understanding your travel budget and making the most out of it is an essential part of the planning process. Let's delve into how you can plan your finances effectively and some tips on how to travel Europe on a budget.
Understanding Your Travel Budget
The first step towards budgeting for your Europe trip is understanding what goes into your travel budget. Here are the main components:
- Flights: This is often the largest part of your budget. Remember, being flexible with your dates can help you secure the best fares. Consider using tools like Skyscanner's "Whole month" tool to find the cheapest month, and even day, to fly to Europe.
- Accommodation: Depending on your preference and budget, you can choose from hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, aparthotels or vacation rentals. Remember to book early to get the best deals.
- Food and Drinks: This will vary greatly depending on the country you're visiting and your personal preferences. To save, consider eating at local markets or cooking your own meals if your accommodation allows. See this post for more tips!
- Transportation: This includes public transport, car rentals, or taxis within your destination. If possible, use public transportation to save costs. In Europe, it is cheap and very efficient.
- Sightseeing and Activities: Prioritize what you want to see and do, as entrance fees can add up quickly. Consider getting city passes if you plan on visiting many attractions.
- Miscellaneous: This includes shopping, tips, and emergency expenses. Always allocate a little extra for unexpected expenses.
How to Travel Europe on a Budget
Here are some practical tips to stretch your budget and enjoy your trip without breaking the bank:
- Plan Your Itinerary Wisely: Prioritize your must-see destinations and activities. Consider focusing on fewer locations to minimize travel costs. There is so much to see in such a small area.
- Use Budget Airlines or Trains: Europe has a number of budget airlines that offer cheap flights across the continent. Trains are also an affordable and scenic way to travel.
- Eat Like a Local: Try local food at smaller, family-run restaurants or street food stalls. Avoid dining in touristy areas as they tend to be pricier. Go grocery shopping and buying snacks and packing lunches can save a lot of money too.
- Free Sightseeing: Many European cities have impressive architecture and outdoor sights that can be enjoyed for free. Also, certain museums and attractions have free or discounted days. Free walking tours (you tip) are a great way to get to know the city when you first get there. I do these all the time in a new city. I have done the Sandemans New Europe free walking tours in many cities, they are great.
- Stay in Budget Accommodation: Consider staying in hostels, aparthotels, budget hotels, or vacation rentals. If you're travelling with a group, splitting a vacation rental can be cost-effective.
- Travel Off-Peak: Travel during the shoulder season (spring and fall) for cheaper flights and accommodation, and fewer crowds.
Remember, the goal is not just to travel as cheaply as possible, but to get the most value for your money. With careful planning and smart choices, you can have an unforgettable European adventure without blowing your budget.
Cash or Credit? Understanding Money in Europe
The Cash Conundrum
For those of us who are a bit old school, the feel of crisp bills in our pocket can seem like the safest bet. And indeed, it's always wise to carry a bit of local currency when you travel to Europe. It comes in handy for tipping, small vendors, or the occasional cafe that doesn't take plastic.
Cash is still king in many places. Back home I only use my travel credit card (points baby!). In Europe, I use my card when I can, and save my cash when I can't. At the end of the day, I'd come home with a pocket full of change. That would fuel my next day's public transit tickets, or for leaving that Euro or two for a tip (more on tipping later).
Euros or Not
While the Euro is commonly used across many countries in Europe, do remember that not all European countries use the Euro as their currency. Countries like the United Kingdom use the Pound (£), Switzerland has the Swiss Franc (CHF), and Hungary uses the Forint (HUF), among others. Make sure to research the currency of your specific destinations and have a small amount exchanged before you arrive.
However, be wary of bringing large amounts of cash from home to exchange. Not only can you lose out due to fluctuating exchange rates, but carrying large amounts of cash can also be a security risk.
Credit Card Confidence
Welcome to the modern age, where your credit card is not just a piece of plastic, but a powerful travel tool. Credit cards offer ease of use, competitive exchange rates, and added security against theft or loss.
Find a great credit card that can earn you travel rewards. We use ours every day for everything we buy and pay it off every month just for the points. It's paid for 4 flights to Europe by doing this. Want to earn free flights or hotel stays on your European adventure? This could be your ticket. Find one that works with your lifestyle.
Most credit card companies will be able to tell that you are travelling if you paid for your flights and hotels with it. They are pretty good at putting two and two together. If you want to be sure, it might be worth a call to let them know you will be travelling. You'd hate to get to Europe and they've locked your credit card thinking someone stole it.
Speaking of stolen or lost credit cards, it is a good idea to write down the number (somewhere safe) and the credit card company's customer service number in case something happens. It's on the back of the credit card.
With your credit card in your wallet and a backup stash of cash, you'll be ready to conquer Europe like a pro!
Remember, it's wise to have a combination of both cash and a reliable credit card when travelling in Europe. This way, you're prepared for any situation and can take advantage of the benefits both forms of money offer.
Say No to Conversion!
Ačiū fam (that's what the kids say right?), we need to talk about foreign transaction fees – they're those pesky charges you get when you use your card abroad. When you make a purchase in a currency other than your card's default, your bank converts the amount and slips in a little extra for their trouble - usually around 1-3% of the transaction. It's like a surprise party no one asked for. There are some cards that offer zero foreign transaction fees, so seek those out.
What's worse, when you're at a foreign ATM or shop, they might offer to convert the currency for you 'for convenience'. It sounds sweet, right? But hold up. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), and it's usually a bad deal. Why? Because their exchange rates are often worse than your bank's, meaning you could end up paying more than necessary. Our advice? Politely decline the offer and let your bank do the conversion. It's like choosing the lesser of two evils - your wallet will thank you later.
Discover Europe with KOHO: The Smart Card for Savvy Young Canadian Travellers (sorry my American friends)
Are you a young Canadian or parent of a young Canadian looking for the perfect starter card to kick-start your saving goals? Say hello to KOHO, a game-changer in the world of personal finance.
This prepaid Mastercard is not just another card in your wallet – it's a tool to fuel your dreams and bring them closer to reality. As a young Canadian adult, it's crucial to keep your eyes on your financial goals. With KOHO, you can do exactly that.
I personally use KOHO as my go-to travel fund (and I'm not even young anymore). Why? Because it's easy to use, it allows me to save effortlessly, and the best part is, I can forget about the money I've stashed in it. Think of KOHO as your automated savings assistant – it takes the stress out of saving and keeps you on track for that dream Europe trip.
With its cash-back rewards and zero fees, KOHO is undeniably a fantastic first card for young Canadians (sorry again my US friends) looking to travel. Trust me, your future self (exploring the streets of Paris, perhaps?) will thank you for it!"
Soaring to Savings: Booking Your Flights to Europe with Ease and Efficiency
So, you've got your European travel dreams mapped out on a Pinterest board, your heart set on a selection of destinations, and you've even begun to practice your "merci beaucoup" and "danke schön." The next step? Booking your flights, of course! But fear not, my intrepid soon-to-be Eurotrippers, for this isn't as daunting as it sounds, especially when you're armed with our top-notch advice.
Planning Your Flight Itinerary
Let's talk about planning your flight itinerary. Just like a good pasta sauce, a good itinerary needs a bit of simmering to bring out the best flavour. So, pour yourself a glass of wine (preferably Italian) and let's dive in.
Flexibility is your best friend here. Think of your itinerary as a rough sketch rather than a detailed blueprint. This way, you're free to go where the European wind blows you - like a free-spirited traveller, or a particularly adventurous plastic bag.
Consider starting your journey in a major city with plenty of flights, like London or Paris, and then use budget airlines or trains to hop around to other cities. However, be careful with those alluring low-cost airlines. They're a bit like a plate of delicious tapas - the base price looks great, but the extras can really add up. Always check baggage allowances as your 15th pair of socks might cost more than the flight itself on some budget airlines.
Remember, it's not just about cost - it's about convenience too. A flight may be cheaper, but if it departs at 3 AM and includes three layovers, you might be better off paying a little extra for a direct flight. Trust me, your sleep schedule will thank you.
Sites like Omio can be a lifesaver for checking out intra-European flights and ensuring you're getting the most bang for your buck (or Euro, as it were).
Finding the Best Flights to Europe
Finding the best flights to Europe is a bit like hunting for the mythical European unicorn – elusive, but oh-so-rewarding when you finally pin it down. Let's break down how to do it without losing your sanity (or your life savings).
First things first, it's time to kiss the Tuesday myth goodbye. You know, that age-old tale that says Tuesday at 2 PM is the best time to buy your ticket? Well, it's about as accurate as the fabled unicorn itself. Instead, focus on the real deal: off-peak hours. When everyone else is dreaming sweet dreams, you'll be snagging sweet deals. Late nights, very early mornings, and weekends are the times to catch those juicy flight deals.
Here's a step-by-step guide on how to find the best flights:
- Set a ballpark for your travel dates. Having a flexible window of a week or so can often help in finding better deals.
- Begin your search about three months before your planned departure. This is typically when airlines begin to manage their flight capacities more actively, leading to potential price drops.
- Use flight comparison and tracking websites, such as Skyscanner and Kiwi.com, to monitor prices. You can even set alerts to be notified when fares drop.
- Check out different cities for your arrival and departure. Sometimes, flying into one city and out of another can not only save you money, but also open up new itinerary options.
My Favourite Picks for Flights
A tried-and-true favourite among savvy travellers, Skyscanner is a global travel search engine that lets you find the best deals on flights, hotels, and car rentals. What sets Skyscanner apart is its 'Everywhere' feature - a tool that lets you explore the cheapest destinations from your chosen departure point. It's like spinning a globe, closing your eyes, and letting fate decide your next adventure - but with the added advantage of saving your pennies!
Kiwi.com is a pioneering travel tech company that's all about making travel better. Known for its groundbreaking virtual interlining technology, Kiwi.com allows you to combine flights from airlines that don't typically collaborate onto a single itinerary. This means you can often find routes and combinations that other search engines won't show you. It's like being a travel hacker, but without needing to know all the ins and outs!
Finding Your Home Away From Home: Mastering the Art of European Accommodations
Understanding Accommodation Options (Hotels, Hostels, Aparthotels, etc.)
Selecting the perfect accommodation for your European getaway can feel a bit like choosing a croissant in a Parisian bakery - so many options, each with its own special flavour. But don't worry, I'm here to walk you through the delightful array of choices.
First off, the classic - hotels. From grand 5-star affairs that wouldn't look out of place in a Bond movie to cozy family-run establishments, hotels offer a wide range of experiences and prices. For those who enjoy a bit of pampering (room service, anyone?) and value the comfort of privacy, hotels are a solid choice.
Next up, hostels. No longer just for the young or the penniless, modern hostels can offer a fantastic blend of value and social interaction. Many hostels provide private rooms, and some even include en-suite bathrooms, so you don't have to compromise your privacy for affordability. Hostelworld is one of the biggest networks for hostels in the world.
Aparthotels & Vacation Homes
If you're looking for a homey feel during your stay, consider an aparthotel or vacation rental. These are often fully furnished apartments available for short-term or long-term stays, providing the comfort of home with the luxury of travel. They offer the unique opportunity to live like a local, even if just for a few days.
Finally, for the more adventurous souls, consider camping or glamping options. From the fjords of Norway to the vineyards of Tuscany, Europe offers some truly stunning locales to pitch a tent or enjoy a luxury outdoor retreat.
Did you know?
Did you know that there are eight different types of accommodations in Europe that you can book? There are more than just the four most common ones above.
Making the Most of Your Accommodation Budget
Now that we've explored the smorgasbord of accommodation options, let's tackle the beast that is the travel budget. Don't worry, it's more of a cuddly kitten than a ferocious beast once you get to know it.
Here are some pro-tips to help you get the most out of your accommodation budget:
- Be flexible with your dates. Just like with flights, hotel and hostel prices can fluctuate based on demand. Staying over a Sunday night can often be cheaper than a Friday or Saturday.
- Location, location, location! Staying in the city centre can be convenient, but it often comes with a price tag to match. Consider staying a bit further out and enjoy the bonus of exploring local neighbourhoods. Find a place close to public transit to make getting around the city easy.
- Consider booking accommodations that include freebies like breakfast or airport shuttles. These little extras can save you a pretty penny over the course of your trip.
- Don't forget to check out discounts and loyalty programs. Many booking platforms offer rewards programs that can lead to free nights or upgrades.
- When considering budget accommodations like hostels or budget hotels, check reviews for cleanliness, safety, and amenities. A little research can go a long way in ensuring you have a comfortable, enjoyable stay.
Remember, the goal is to find the accommodation that fits both your budget and your travel style. Whether it's a chic Parisian boutique hotel, a cozy Berlin hostel, or a romantic Tuscan villa, Europe has the perfect home away from home waiting just for you!
Booking Your Perfect Accommodation: A Guide to Top Platforms
With the myriad of platforms available, the options are virtually endless – but fret not, because we have got your back. In this guide, we will meticulously break down the crème de la crème of booking platforms. Each platform not only offers a plethora of choices but also brings its unique bouquet of features and benefits to the table. Whether you’re seeking the lowest prices, an extensive range of options, or exclusive rewards, these platforms are your keys to unlocking an exquisite travel experience.
Here’s the golden opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Don’t let indecision stand in the way of the adventure that beckons. Your dream accommodation, the one that will serve as your sanctuary as you explore unknown lands, taste exotic cuisine, and weave stories that will last a lifetime, is just waiting for you to hit ‘book now’.
Type: Excellent booking platform for hotels, homes, flights, car rentals, and airport taxis.
Accommodation Types: Extremely wide range including traditional hotels, and unique options like treehouses and igloos.
Rewards Program: ‘Genius’ loyalty program is good but requires multiple bookings for significant rewards.
Booking Process: Allows direct bookings on the platform.
Mobile App: Easy to use for access and on-the-go bookings.
Free Cancellation: Available on most rooms, but always important to check the fine print.
Unique Feature: Exceptionally extensive list of property types and accommodations.
Type: Strong all-in-one search engine for flights and bundling with hotels and car rentals.
Filters: Good variety including star rating, price, meal options, and amenities.
Price Alerts: Very useful for keeping track of price changes.
Booking Process: Redirects to the provider’s website for booking which might not be ideal for everyone.
Mobile App: Easy to use for access and on-the-go bookings.
Unique Feature: Strong in flight searches and comparisons, but might lack some accommodation options.
Type: Effective booking platform for hotels, vacation rentals, flights, and airport transfers.
Price Guarantee: Useful but sometimes the process to claim can be complicated.
Rewards Program: 'AgodaCash' is practical but accumulation can be slow.
Booking Process: Allows direct bookings on the platform.
Mobile App: Includes useful features like paperless check-in and check-out, and offline maps.
Unique Feature: Good range of properties, including smaller, independently-owned accommodations.
Packing Perfectly: Your Essential Europe Trip Kit
Alright, you've planned your trip, booked your flights, and chosen your accommodations. You're all set, right? Well, hold onto your passports, because there's another crucial step you need to ace: packing. But before we dive into what to pack, let's talk about where to pack.
Choosing the Right Suitcase
First thing's first, you need the right gear. We've all seen that poor soul trying to wrangle a suitcase that's seen better days. To avoid becoming that person, choose a sturdy and reliable hardside suitcase. Not only do they provide better protection for your belongings, but they also tend to be more durable and weather-resistant. For a detailed guide on choosing the best hardside luggage, check out our comprehensive review post Best Hardside Luggage here.
I personally have a set of Paravel Aviator luggage a set of eco-friendly luggage made of recycled materials. It's gorgeous and has amazing features.
Packing Light, But Right
The first rule of packing for Europe is, well, not to overpack. It's a rookie mistake we've all made, ending up lugging around a suitcase heavier than a baby elephant. Remember, you're going to explore charming cobblestone streets, not to participate in a strongman competition. The golden rule? Pack what you think you'll need, then take out half.
But fear not! This doesn't mean you'll be recycling the same pair of socks for a month. Europe is filled with affordable clothing stores like H&M, Zara, and Primark, perfect for picking up an extra layer or replacing that shirt you've worn three days in a row.
Okay, down to the nitty-gritty. What do you really need to pack? Well, the answer depends on your destination and the season, but here are some universal essentials:
- Comfortable Shoes: This is super important, top of my list. Those cobblestone streets aren't exactly sneaker-friendly, and you'll be doing a lot of walking. Trust me, your feet will thank you.
- Versatile Clothing: Think layers and clothes that can go from day to night. A nice scarf or a snazzy tie can transform an outfit in seconds.
- Travel Adapter: Europe's plugs can be as diverse as its languages, so make sure you're prepared.
- Toiletries: Bring travel-sized versions of your essentials and remember, most accommodations provide basics like shampoo and soap.
- Important Documents: Passport, ID, travel insurance, flight tickets, and copies of all the above, just in case.
- Medication: Don't forget the basics like pain relievers, and things for stomach issues. Bring enough prescription medicine for the whole trip, if you have any. Keep every with the proper labels. You don't want to have to explain the Ziploc bag full of assorted pills to customs officers.
Packing Like a Pro
Alright, ready for some packing wizardry? Here's how to make the most of your suitcase space. Time to put all those years of Tetris playing to use.
- Roll Your Clothes: Not only does this save space, but it also reduces wrinkles.
- Pack Heaviest Items at the Bottom: It keeps your suitcase balanced and prevents delicate items from getting crushed.
- Use Packing Cubes: These little lifesavers keep your clothes organized and compact. Once you cube, you never go back. I can't live without them.
- Fill Dead Space: Stuff socks and underwear into your shoes, and make sure every corner of your suitcase is used. Especially those weird spaces between the handle.
The Final Check
Before you zip up that suitcase, double-check for these often-forgotten items: chargers, medications, glasses or contact lenses (and solution), and any specific toiletries you can't live without. And remember – if you forget something, it's not the end of the world. Europe does have shops, after all!
So there you have it. Armed with these tips, you're ready to tackle the packing stage like a seasoned globetrotter. Now, go forth and pack! And remember, when in doubt, leave it out. Your future self, breezing through European streets with a light suitcase, will thank you.
On the Move: Unraveling the Secrets of Getting Around Europe
Overview of Ground Transport Options
When it comes to getting around in Europe, you've got more options than there are types of cheese in France (and trust us, that's saying something). Let's take a look at your transportation buffet:
Ah, the romance of the European rail network. Every major European city has a main train station. Trains in Europe are a reliable, comfortable, and often scenic way to travel between cities and countries. From high-speed services like France's TGV and Italy's Frecciarossa to scenic journeys such as Switzerland's Glacier Express, train travel offers a range of experiences.
For the budget-conscious traveler, buses can be a wallet-friendly option. Companies like FlixBus and Eurolines serve a vast network across Europe, and the comfort and quality of buses have greatly improved in recent years.
When distances are vast, budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet can whisk you between European cities faster than you can say "croissant". Remember to factor in the cost and time of getting to and from the airport.
For those who crave the freedom of the open road, renting a car can provide flexibility and the chance to explore off-the-beaten-path locations. But keep in mind the challenges of unfamiliar road rules, tolls, and city parking. I personally like to use Auto Europe. They compare all the car rental companies, and show what's included.
In addition to global services like Uber and Lyft, Europe has its own unique flavour of ride-sharing. Meet BlaBlaCar, a popular service that connects drivers travelling from one city to another with passengers headed the same way. It's a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to travel, and you might just make a new friend along the way.
Before you think, "This sounds dangerous!", know that this is a very popular thing that many locals use. Gas is expensive, people just want to split the cost. My mother, at 75 used it by herself, and she's still with us to tell the tale.
For female travellers seeking a bit more peace of mind, BlaBlaCar also offers a "Ladies Only" option, allowing women to book seats in cars driven by other women. Now, that's what we call riding in style!
Europe's abundant coastlines and islands make ferries a common and scenic mode of transport. Whether it's hopping between Greek islands or crossing the fjords of Norway, a ferry ride can be a destination in itself. Direct Ferries is one of the best search tools for European ferries.
Bikes and Scooters
In bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, you can get around quickly and cheaply on two wheels. Some cities even have bike-sharing programs. Just remember your helmet!
Learn More Here!
Tips for Efficient and Cost-Effective Travel
Now that we've covered the 'what', let's get into the 'how'. Here are some top tips for efficient and cost-effective travel around Europe:
Plan Ahead: Especially for train and ferry travel, booking tickets in advance can score you some serious discounts. Check out services like Omio or Trainline to compare prices and book tickets.
City Cards: Many cities offer tourist cards that provide free public transportation and discounts to attractions. If you plan on hitting the major sights, these can be a major cost and time saver. Find your City Cards here.
Pack Light: Whether you're hopping on a plane or a train, traveling with minimal luggage will save you money and hassle. Plus, you'll thank yourself when you're navigating cobblestone streets or climbing to your fifth-floor Airbnb.
Walk or Bike: In Europe's compact city centers, sometimes the best mode of transportation is your own two feet (or two wheels). It's not only free, but you'll see more of the city's charm and local life.
Mix and Match: Don't limit yourself to one mode of transport. Perhaps you take a train to that far-flung city, then rent a car to explore the countryside, then fly back. Europe's variety of transportation means you can tailor your journey to your needs and desires.
Unleashing the Magic: How to Make the Most of Your Europe Trip
How to Choose What to Do in Europe
Choosing what to do in Europe is a bit like being a kid in a candy store with a handful of euros - there's just so much sweetness to pick from, where do you even start? Fear not, aspiring European adventurer, we've got some tips to help you navigate the veritable smorgasbord of European delights:
Are you a history buff with a penchant for medieval castles, or does the thought of sunning on Mediterranean beaches get your heart racing? Maybe you're a foodie looking to indulge in the gastronomical delights of Italy and France, or perhaps you're an art enthusiast eager to walk the halls of the Louvre or the Uffizi Gallery. By knowing your interests, you can prioritize destinations that offer experiences aligned with your passions.
Research, Research, Research
No, we're not suggesting you write a dissertation on European travel (though, by the end of your trip, you probably could). Use resources like travel blogs (wink, wink), guidebooks, social media, and even good ol' Google Maps to find out what each destination has to offer. Keep an eye out for lesser-known gems alongside the iconic landmarks.
Balance Your Itinerary
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. The same applies to travel - balance days spent museum hopping with relaxing days at the beach or a leisurely stroll through a picturesque village. Even take a day trip to another city. Add a pinch of spontaneity to your meticulously planned itinerary for unexpected discoveries.
Some attractions or experiences may be seasonal. For example, you wouldn't want to plan a trip to Munich's Oktoberfest in December, or a beach holiday on the Greek islands in the middle of winter. Make sure to check the best times to visit your chosen destinations.
Seek Local Insights
When you arrive, don't forget to ask locals for their recommendations. From the best local cuisine to hidden spots off the beaten tourist track, locals can offer a unique perspective that no guidebook can.
And there you have it, a strategy to tackle the tantalizing task of choosing what to do in Europe. Remember, the goal is not to see everything but to savor the experiences you choose. So, get ready to unleash your inner explorer and create your very own European adventure!
Safe Travels: Navigating Europe with Confidence and Peace of Mind
Safety Tips for First-Time Travellers to Europe
Travelling to Europe for the first time can be exhilarating, like riding a gondola for the first time, or finally mastering the art of pronouncing "croissant". But amidst all the excitement, it's essential to prioritize safety to ensure your trip is as carefree as a Dutch cyclist on a sunny day. Here are some key safety tips for first-time travellers to Europe:
Stay Alert in Crowded Places
Pickpocketing can be common in crowded tourist areas, on public transportation, and at large events. Keep your belongings close, use a money belt or anti-theft bag, and be wary of distractions - a common tactic used by pickpockets. Keep your head up and look around at people. This makes you appear more alert and aware of your surrounding. Would-be thieves want easy targets that aren't paying attention.
I like to find a bench that's against a wall when I go to use my phone to search for anything or look up directions. Don't walk around with your nose buried in your phone.
You can use Google Maps and get turn-by-turn directions even when you are walking. Put on your headphones and the lovely lady will tell you how to get where you are going without having to have your phone out for someone to snag. No music! You still want to hear things around.
Respect Local Customs and Laws
A little respect goes a long way. Research local customs before you arrive to avoid unintentionally offending locals. Also, be aware of local laws. For instance, in some European cities, it's illegal to eat or drink in public places, such as near major landmarks.
Travel Insurance is Your Friend
It's the friend you hope you never need, but you'll be glad to have if something goes wrong. Travel insurance can cover everything from medical emergencies to trip cancellations, lost baggage, and more. Check the fine print and make sure you're covered for your planned activities. Find insurance for your trip here.
Be Cautious with Alcohol
Europeans may love their wine and beer, but don't let the local drinking culture trick you into lowering your guard. Always watch your drinks being poured, never leave them unattended, and know your limits.
Keep Important Numbers Handy
In the European Union, 112 is the emergency phone number. However, individual countries have their own additional emergency numbers. It's a good idea to have these saved in your phone.
Keep your family or friends updated about your plans. Share your itinerary, contact information, and any changes in your plans. Get an eSIM so you don't have to pay the ridiculous rates your Roam Like Home plan with charge you. Learn more about eSIMS here.
Maintain Good Health Practices
Don't forget your health while travelling. Stay hydrated, protect yourself from the sun, get plenty of rest, and make sure you have any necessary vaccinations before you leave.
Watch Out! Common Scams in Europe
This is just a short list of the most common ones. There are others, but the general rule is to be wary of people being overly chatty or helpful. For me as a Canadian, that's hard because I always want to help people out, so I assume that everyone is like that.
The Gold Ring Scam: Most reported in Paris, France. A person picks up a 'gold' ring off the ground and insists it's yours, then demands a 'finder's fee' when you take it. They often target tourists around major landmarks.
Friendship Bracelets: Common in Rome and Florence, Italy. A friendly person will approach and start making a bracelet around your wrist or hand you a 'free' sprig of rosemary. Once it's on, they will demand payment.
The Spill on Your Shirt: Notably frequent in Barcelona, Spain. Someone spills something on you. As they or a passerby help clean it up, they or an accomplice pick your pocket.
Petition Signers: This scam is widespread across Europe but especially common in Paris, France. People will ask you to sign a petition, usually for a seemingly good cause. While you're distracted, they pickpocket you, or if you sign, they demand a cash donation.
The Attractive Flirt: Often reported in Istanbul, Turkey, and other major cities. An attractive person strikes up a conversation and invites you to a bar or club. When the bill arrives, it's exorbitantly high, and they've disappeared, leaving you to foot the bill.
The Taxi Overcharge: Common in many cities, but especially frequent in Rome, Italy, and Prague, Czech Republic. Some taxi drivers may take the long route to run up the meter or tell you the meter is broken and then overcharge you.
The Shell Game: Particularly common in Berlin, Germany, and other major cities. Also known as 'Find the Pea' – a street game where you have to keep track of which cup the pea is under. It's a trick - the operator can remove and insert the pea into any cup they want!
Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stay alert, trust your instincts, and don't let anyone rush you into anything.
Navigating Cultural Differences in Europe
Tipping Etiquette Across Europe
Tipping can be a bit of a minefield in Europe as practices vary widely from country to country. In some places like Germany and Austria, it's customary to round up the bill to the nearest Euro for good service. In others like Spain and Italy, leaving a few coins is appreciated but not obligatory. And in places like the UK, a service charge is often included in the bill, so additional tipping is not necessary. Do your homework ahead of time to avoid any awkward faux pas.
Public Behaviour and Norms
Europeans are known for their love of outdoor cafes, relaxed pace of life, and respect for public spaces. This can be quite a departure from the hustle and bustle of other parts of the world. Be mindful of local norms when it comes to noise levels, cleanliness, and personal space. For instance, in many parts of Europe, it's considered rude to talk loudly on your phone in public transport.
Business Hours and Siestas
Don't be caught off guard by the unique business hours in some European countries. I have. I landed on a Sunday and everything was closed.
In Spain and Italy, for example, many shops close for a few hours in the afternoon for siesta, only to open again in the evening. And in much of Europe, stores are closed on Sundays.
Remember, cultural differences are part of the charm of international travel. Embrace them, and you'll get so much more out of your trip to Europe!
Wrapping Up Your Grand European Adventure (Before It Even Starts!)
So there you have it, fellow wanderlusters - your comprehensive guide to navigating Europe for the first time. With all the ins and outs of planning, budgeting, booking flights, choosing accommodations, and getting around, we hope you're feeling more prepared than a Swiss Army Knife.
Remember, the goal isn't just to 'do' Europe, but to experience it, to breathe it in like the fresh baguettes in a Parisian bakery or the salty sea air in Santorini. We hope you take each tip and trick in this guide to heart, but also remember that the unexpected moments often make for the best stories (as long as they don't involve falling into a Venetian canal).
Jump Right In
Keep your eyes open, your wallet closed (when appropriate), your heart ready for adventure, and your taste buds prepared for a smorgasbord of new flavours. From the windmills in the Netherlands to the flamenco dancers of Spain, the grandeur of the Colosseum to the mystical allure of the Northern Lights, Europe is ready to welcome you with open arms and endless surprises.
So get out there and make the most of your European adventure. We can't wait to hear all about it. Yes, even the part where you couldn't pronounce "Szczecin" at the Polish train station and ended up on a surprise trip to the beach. After all, isn't that what travel's all about?
And don't forget - at Aciu I am with you every step of the way. Need more tips? More guides? A digital pep talk? I've got you covered. Because I'm not just here to help you plan your trip, we're here to make sure it's an experience you'll cherish forever. So go forth, intrepid traveller, and make Europe your oyster!
Bon voyage, safe travels, and don't forget to send me a postcard or at least share a post in the Aciu Facebook group!
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