International travel can be a daunting task whether your passport is brimming with stamps or if you’ve never left the borders of your home country. With so much to keep in mind before heading abroad, we’ve compiled a list of ten tips that will help make your first (or next) trip to Europe as smooth as possible.
1. Know How and When to Use Cash
Depending on where you’re traveling in Europe and your arrangements with banks and credit card companies, it may be difficult or impossible to use plastic when making day-to-day purchases. (Hotels and other businesses dealing with large sums of money generally accept credit cards.)
Take the time to convert your money before you visit Europe to avoid extortionate conversion fees. If you have to convert money while you’re overseas, look for a bank rather than an establishment devoted only to currency exchange – banks will likely offer more favorable rates.
2. Cell Phones are a Pain
Unfortunately, there aren’t many good options when it comes to purchasing cell phone service for European vacations, particularly if you’re visiting more than one country. If your cell phone is unlocked, meaning that it isn’t tied to your home service provider, you can purchase a local SIM card in each country and pay as you go.
Another option is to purchase a global SIM card, which works similarly and also requires an unlocked phone to support the service. Arrive with a plan – you don’t want to end up wasting valuable travel time on trying to find a cell phone store!
3. Schengen Area
It may be difficult to use your cell phone in multiple countries, but don’t let that be a deterrent from making your European vacation a multinational one. The 26 countries that comprise the Schengen Area make it easy to travel across international borders without the hassle of repeated border control.
Once you’ve entered a Schengen country (Italy, for example), you are free to travel to other countries in the area (Spain, Portugal, Slovenia, etc.) for up to 90 days in any 180 day period. Be aware of that deadline if you’re planning on traveling for longer, as you may want to spend time in a non-Schengen country (Croatia or the United Kingdom, for example) to overcome some of the restrictions.
Like the Schengen Area, the Eurozone makes international travel easy by limiting the need for currency exchange in different countries. The 19 countries that comprise the Eurozone include tourist hotspots like Italy, France, and Spain, in addition to off-the-beaten-path destinations like the Baltic States, Finland, and Luxembourg.
Make a note on your itinerary of any countries that don’t use the Euro as their official currency; you’ll need to make a currency transfer if you’re planning on visiting places like Norway, Denmark, or the Czech Republic.
5. Lines Can Be Avoided
Many European destinations are notorious for the long lines found outside famous attractions like St. Mark’s Square, the Eiffel Tower, and Anne Frank’s House. However, many of these attractions offer Advance Tickets or reserved entry times to avoid lengthy lines for ticket windows. Explore Italy Tours includes these ‘skip the line’ tickets in a number of our tour packages, allowing you more time to enjoy these historic experiences.
6. No Tipping
Save your money! Unlike in other parts of the world, tipping is neither customary nor expected. If you feel compelled to leave something in appreciation of good service, 5-10% is an appropriate amount. Taxi drivers, bartenders, and baristas will likely be more confused than grateful if you give them a tip beyond rounding up to the nearest Euro.
7. Budget Airlines
Travelers from large countries like Australia, Canada, and the United States may not be familiar with the various budget airlines operating in Europe. Airlines like Ryanair, Wizz! Air, and Norwegian offer heavily reduced rates for flights between European metropolises.
Your European vacation is no longer bound by geographic limitations; a relatively short flight from London to Copenhagen, or Milan to Oslo, is easily booked and paid for through one of these companies. Be aware, however, of luggage limits – many of these cheap fares do not include accommodation for large bags.
8. Cities are Safe
Here’s another myth we’re happy to debunk: major cities like Rome, Paris, and London are not bursting with roving pickpocketers who will remove every penny from your wallet without you noticing. Of course, there are opportunistic criminals in every major world city, but there is no reason to feel paranoid when traveling in Europe.
Be smart and alert when it comes to keeping track of your money and personal items; however, there is no need to keep your money strapped around your chest in a money belt. Nor is it necessary to separate your money into ten different locations, as you’ll be more likely to forget where you put it than have it taken from you.
9. Car Rental
If you are hoping to visit some smaller towns or European countrysides, it may be advantageous to rent a car and drive there yourself. European countries have different rules when it comes to accepting the validity of foreign driver’s license – do your research and check with local embassies/consulates or with reputable rental car companies like Sixt or Avis. In many places, all that will be required will be your passport and driver’s license; present them when picking up your car and you’ll be on your way!
10. Helpful Apps
If you’re a smartphone user, you have the advantage of access to several helpful apps for traveling in Europe. Here are some apps that we recommend downloading before traveling abroad:
Airline and Hotel Apps: Most, if not all, airline and hotel companies have dedicated apps to help you keep track of bookings and contact them in case of emergency.
Google Maps and Google Translate: These apps are unmatched in their quality and can range from “helpful” to “life-saving.”
Review Apps: Yelp and TripAdvisor offer consumer reviews for just about every restaurant or attraction you’ll come across, and their GPS-based apps will show you the gems hiding just steps away from your current location.