Ready to plan a European getaway? From Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London to the canals of Venice, the continent is a wonderland of cultures, cuisines, art, and architecture. Along with your daydreams about touring the Louvre and walking the Camino Del Ray, there are a few practical matters that will need your attention. Thus, I give you 7 things to plan for your trip to Europe!
Get a Passport
Image via Flickr by My Alternative Photos
Apply for your passport as early as possible if you don’t have a current one. The process normally takes six weeks, but it’s best to allow extra time so you won’t feel stressed. If you’ve already waited too long, don’t worry. Expedited processing is available for a fee.
Find a Deal on Flights
You can save big on flights to Europe if you’re flexible about when and where you travel. Winter is the cheapest time to cross the Atlantic, but if you’re on a tight budget there are reputable carriers who offer low-cost options year-round. WOW Airlines and IcelandAir, both based in Iceland, have surprisingly low rates and offer free stay-overs in Reykjavik so you can add a touch of Viking history to your trip. Norwegian Airlines also offers great trans-Atlantic deals. Pro Tip: Check on whether the advertised rate includes any luggage; some discount carriers charge extra even for carry-on bags.
Book Your Lodging
If you’re booking your flight through a travel site like Expedia, you’ll save money by booking at least some of your hotels at the same time. But, consider other options for lodging as well. Vacation rental sites like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO connect travelers with apartments or condos, which is a lovely way to travel if you’re experienced enough to sacrifice the front-desk services of a hotel and arrange your own transportation and day tours.
Turn Your Phone Into a Travel Buddy
Choose a robust plan and phone like T-Mobile’s Galaxy S6 as a traveling companion, and load it down with apps that will take care of all your needs on the go. T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan gives you unlimited texting and data in over 140 countries, so you won’t have to worry about running up charges. Download apps like Google Maps, Google Translate, Rome2Rio, and TripAdvisor, and your phone will help you find your way around, read signs, talk with people you meet, find the cheapest way to get from place to place, and select the best restaurants, tours, and activities wherever you land.
Research Passes and Tickets
Many travelers buy a Eurail pass automatically because they’ve heard it’s the cheapest way to travel around Europe. That may be the case if you’re under 26 and qualify for a Youth Pass. But for many travelers, it’s actually less expensive to buy point-to-point tickets, take a bus, or even to fly on budget airlines for long distances. Use an app like Rome2Rio to compare the cost of flights, bus tickets, and train rides for your itinerary, and only buy a pass if it’s the best option for your trip.
Plan Your Activities
The fun part of planning is figuring out how you will enjoy each point along the way. Many major cities have free walking tours you can join, or hop-on-hop-off bus tours that will shuttle you between major attractions. Brokers like Viator.com make it easy to book English-speaking tours, cooking classes, show tickets, and activities through local agents who meet high standards for quality. You’ll pay a slight premium, but it’s worth it to have access to reviews and an agency with a reputation for refunding your money quickly if something goes wrong.
Pack Your Bags
The last consideration is what luggage to bring. Most travelers pack too much and are miserable trying to manage their luggage. If you can manage with a carry-on size bag, you could save money on flights and you will be much happier running up and down staircases in European train stations, which are not always equipped with elevators or escalators. A backpack is a better option on historic cobblestone streets and staircases, where luggage wheels are useless.
With the right tools and websites, planning your European vacation is half the fun of travel.
What would you add to this list of things to plan for your trip to Europe?