Making a plan for your first trip to Europe is exciting but it can also be a maze of uncertainty. It pays to do the preparation carefully and thoughtfully. We will acquaint you with practically everything you need to know about planning your first trip to Europe. Our comprehensive guide, supplemented with practical checklists and time-lines we use ourselves, will help with what to include in a plan to travel to Europe.
If you are planning your first trip to Europe you may appreciate some help about such things as keeping your plans simple; help to plan your destinations and when to travel; how and when to prepare your documentation, managing your bookings, arranging communication, and preparing for your long haul flights; understanding why you must be accurate with your Travel insurances; deciding your preferences about what to wear and where to eat and sleep; what to see and do; and planning the best way, for you, of getting around Europe.
Your first trip to Europe will provide you with memories that will last a life time and planning your first trip to Europe will not only build anticipation but will also be a fun part of the vacation. Successful planning will ensure a stress free journey such that you will want to return time and time again. There is a lot to think about and a lot to do but our extensive guide will do a lot of your thinking for you and help you to prepare for a trip to Europe.
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How to Plan Your First Trip to Europe
- First Time Travellers to Europe, Keep Your Plans Simple
- Plan Where to Go on Your First Trip to Europe
- Plan When to Go to Europe
First Time Travellers to Europe, Keep Your Plans Simple
- Keep your plans for your first trip to Europe simple. If you know the places you’ve always wanted to visit, just keep to those. We remember our first journey to Europe. It was about walking the Monopoly Board in London, climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris and singing ‘Arrivederci Roma’ in Rome. Such simple things but how much pleasure they brought!
- Do your research and plan before you go, not as you travel. There is nothing worse than finding out what you missed after you’ve left the destination.
- Accept that you can’t see it all, so plan to enjoy what you have always wanted to see and do rather than pine over what you can’t!
- Probably the biggest mistake first time visitors make is that they underestimate the size of Europe and are prone to arrange insufficient time to visit each city or venue. Cities like London, Paris and Rome need a minimum of four days to discover! It’s not a race and the place won’t drop off the surface of the earth after you return home. There’s always another trip to look forward to. So take your time. Smell the flowers. Enjoy the ambience.
- Allow time when you are away to both rest and to take care of the mundane things that will have to be done while you are travelling. It’s surprising how many first-timers to Europe say that they were ready to return home after just a few weeks. You can probably attribute that to poor planning. Don’t exhaust yourself chasing impossible schedules.
Plan Where to Go on Your First Trip to Europe
Where you plan to go on your first trip to Europe comes down to how much time you have to travel and your personal interests. However, there are several different approaches you could take without making your arrangements too complex.
The Most Popular Plan is to See as Much of Europe as Possible
If you’re like many of us you’ll organise your first trip to sweep across as much of Europe as possible. The best way to plan your route is to put your phone away, buy a large map of Europe and run your eyes over it. Believe us – you will feel the anticipation build and you can be sure that as you see those familiar names on the map a route will soon get your attention.
If you are planning on seeing Western Europe you could start in London and make your way over to Paris, either by train or ferry. Florence beckons via the Matterhorn in Switzerland and then it’s over to Venice. You may wish to travel further north to Berlin, taking in Salzburg, Munich and Prague along the way. Perhaps you have time to slip across to Vienna from Salzburg and proceed to Prague from there. You’re now in striking distance of Amsterdam and the route to Norway via Denmark. Alternatively, head south from Venice to Rome before travelling west around the Italian and French Riviera through Monte Carlo and Nice to Barcelona and Madrid. Depending on time, whichever route you take, you can join the dots by stopping off at intermediate towns and villages.
If you aim to travel through Eastern Europe then fly into Rome before travelling to Venice via Florence. Once in Venice you can decide whether to head south through the Balkans and visit Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia, or travel east through Slovenia into Hungary. Continue north into Poland before returning west through Czechoslovakia, Austria and Germany. We have been to all of these places and can recommend that irrespective of which route you choose you will enjoy your journey.
Choose a Theme When You Plan Your First Trip to Europe
One strategy that may help you plan where to go on your first trip to Europe is to select a theme. A theme based on your interests will give your trip a new focus and energy. It will allow you to visit your favourite places without feeling you are not making the best use of your time.
We carved one of our tours into four distinct themes – the history and antiquity of Greece, the landscapes of the Balkans, the echoes of the WW1 and WW2 battlefields in France and Belgium, and the geology of the UK’s Jurassic Coast. Each of these themes was based on our own interests, was self-contained and was well researched before we left. These themes added greatly to our enjoyment. We felt as though we were enjoying four trips, not one. The themes also promoted additional sight-seeing and hiking that we wouldn’t have contemplated before leaving for Europe. So, in a word, think about planning a theme or themes for your first trip to Europe. It will in no way make planning your visit more complicated.
Plan to do Something Different
But perhaps you’re looking for something else. You have always loved what you have read or heard of Europe – its history, its landscapes, its architecture, its food, its ambience, its people. And what you’re looking forward to in Europe is sharing a beer, meal or conversation with the friendly, experienced, mature adults you will meet everywhere you go. In fact, it was Sydney Smith, way back in 1800, who said:
One of the greatest pleasures in life is a conversation
So why not be prepared to feel a bit uncomfortable and get right off the beaten track and visit all those places and countries you wanted to but have put them off? Trade hotels or apartments for the campervan or go camping? Throw on a backpack and walk the ancient trails across Britain? Cycle across France? Book a few places somewhere over a couple of months and live like the locals? There are so many different things to do.
But whatever you do and wherever you go, a happy trip is based on planning and preparation.
Plan When to Go to Europe
The choice of season is always a tough one. Nevertheless, as a first-time visitor to Europe will find rewards irrespective of when you travel. However, there are some simple guidelines to help you with your planning.
The High Season in Europe
The High Season in Europe is from mid-June to the end of August. The simple fact is that Summer in Europe can be hot – very hot. It’s a lovely time to travel; the beaches are inviting, the water is warm and the evenings balmy. It can be wonderful; lying on the grass in Green Park in London watching a virtual United Nations around you is not to be sneezed at. Summer is also the best time to visit Norway and other parts of Scandinavia. But Europe in summer is busy – very busy. You will enjoy beautiful weather but you will enjoy it with the rest of the world. You may turn up at the Eiffel Tower wanting to take the elevator to the top and realise that you will have to stand in a queue for up to two hours to do it. You will need to plan for a more expensive trip because you will also pay premium prices for everything, including accommodation.
The Shoulder Seasons in Europe
The Shoulder Seasons in Europe are from April to mid-June and from September to mid-November. The climate is gentler and there are fewer tourists sharing your interests. Costs usually moderate because accommodation is plentiful.
The Spring Shoulder is beautiful because the country-side starts to respond to a warming sun and the meadows become covered in flowers. Pullovers are taken off but not put away because the season will be wet on occasions and sometimes, even in June, the cold blasts of arctic air aren’t necessarily done with yet. Skiers desert the Alpine villages which turn into havens for hikers. Europe starts to buzz with retirees who are keen to beat the heat and the crowds of summer. Tour buses filled with seniors start to cross Europe in ever-increasing numbers and university students who had set their alarms for June start to appear.
The Fall Shoulder is beautiful because the country-side starts to respond to a cooling sun. Vegetation, temporarily stressed by hot days, starts to recover and the leaves put on their Fall jackets, looking splendid in their autumnal colours. The bulk of the tourists have left. The world returns to normal because universities and schools are again open for business. North of the Alps and in the UK the first cool air of winter can be felt and the bomber jacket is never far away. South of the Alps the weather through the day is still comfortably warm. Europe is in transition. Costs are reasonable because the Summer peak is over and the Winter peak is yet to arrive. All custom is welcome.
The Low Season in Europe
The Low Season, apart from around Christmas, runs between November to March. It can be beautiful with blankets of snow covering meadows and mountains, and ice crystallised on motionless leaves providing an almost fantasy forest. But it’s cold, dark before 5pm, and many of the monuments and museums might be closed for the season. Independent touring, a feature of the warmer months, gives way to conducted tours for older tourists because of the convenience of warm hotels and warm buses. The pay back is the lower cost and the absence of crowds. Air fares are lower and accommodation can be quite inexpensive in comparison to other seasons. But not for venues that provide for winter sports.
So How To Decide in Which Season to Travel?
You might divide Western Europe into three climate zones relative to The Alps. The three zones are north and south of the Alps and Scandinavia.
The Summer and Winter seasons are more predictable as to what to expect, although they don’t always arrive when expected. It makes sense during the Spring Shoulder to start south of the Alps and head north when the weather warms. For example, it takes six weeks for the spring and summer warmth in the south of England to finally reach the north. The opposite is true for the Fall Shoulder. The window to visit Scandanavia is quite small and best done before the end of September. When the winter approaches, head for southern Spain, Italy and Greece.
What You Need to Know When Planning Your First Trip to Europe
It is important when you organise your first trip to Europe that you are across all the practical reminders, recommendations and travel regulations.
- What You Need to Know About Managing Your Travel Plans
What You Need to Know About Preparation
- What You Need to Know Before You Get on the Plane
- What You Need to Know About When on the Plane
What You Need to Know About Managing Your Travel Plans
There probably aren’t any travel arrangements an agent can manage that you can’t manage yourself. The management of travel plans has moved away from travel agents to self-management. Airline travel, accommodation, transportation or whatever can be made online from your home if you have the skills, confidence and time. And yes, it is time-consuming. If you’re not sure, start visiting some of the airline and accommodation websites and get a feel for what is required. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how simple it all is. And you won’t be diverting your money into agent commissions. Nevertheless, if you don’t feel confident about personally managing your plans, the travel agent is always available.
The days of bearing tickets are quickly vanishing. Mobile phones now have capacity for electronic wallets where apps will store your travel documentation. The electronic wallet provides much easier access through a range of intercepts, including airline terminals. Again, the use of an electronic wallet is not necessary.
Once you pay for that first commitment, the dominoes start to fall and they can fall quickly. Before you start to confirm and pay for arrangements, ensure that you have planned everything, have a checklist, and can see the big picture going forward.
What You Need to Know About Preparation
Following are some very fundamental but sometimes very important reminders to ensure you get onto the plane with everything you need.
Passport, Visas and Other Possible Documents
Naturally, you will need a current Passport. Do you require a visa to enter the countries you wish to visit? Europe is visa-free for some listed countries but not all. Has Brexit and Covid caused your destinations to impose additional regulations, such as a visa or evidence of vaccination?
Ensure you have done your research on Travel Sims. You can either pre-purchase a global travel sim before you leave or purchase a sim card within each country you visit. Use a comparison site to select a global sim – they are available from companies ranging from your own communications provider to retail stores. Costs and convenience vary between the vendors. The global sim offered by your communications provider will likely be the most expensive, but it will also be the most convenient to use as one sim card will offer coverage across all of Europe. Local sims in any country in Europe are readily available – they are sold everywhere. This is the least expensive option but you will have to ensure the sim cards are swapped out before you cross a border otherwise you will be charged at roaming rates.
You may plan to stay at accommodation or order a meal where English isn’t spoken. A language app installed on your phone for those awkward moments won’t weigh you down. There are plenty of scenarios when you may appreciate having it.
Do you need to take any medication? Some countries will not permit you to enter if you are in possession of particular drugs, even if they are legal in your own country. For example, if you are stopping over or transitioning in the UAE then you must be aware that sleeping tablets are viewed as mind altering substances and you can be charged with drug offenses. The same applies to sedatives and tranquilisers. The full range of restricted drugs for this region can be considered at https://u.ae/en/information-and-services/health-and-fitness/drugs-and-controlled-medicines/controlled-medicines. Other countries, depending on your route, may also need to be researched. And so should the countries you intend to visit. And what about vaccinations? Is your ‘flu shot current if you’re travelling in the cooler months?
Do you plan to fill a prescription during your visit to Europe? Then you will need an original copy of the prescription stamped by the pharmacist and a letter from your doctor authorising you to carry the prescription and to have it filled. If you are planning to take prescription medication across the border then the medication must be in its original packaging with a copy of the prescription stamped with the date that appears on the packaging. Your pharmacist will be able to produce a copy of the prescription from their archives if necessary. And, of course, a covering letter from your doctor. Be sure you limit the quantity of tablets for your own personal needs for the time you intend to travel. Should you carry medication in such quantities that border guards considerate it excessive for personal use, you may be detained for trafficking. And yes, it has happened! It is wise to take sufficient medication to start your trip and rely on a script being filled later in your holiday. But speak to your doctor for the best advice about your personal needs.
What You Need to Know About When You Are on the Plane
Following are some important reminders to ensure you can get onto the plane with everything you need.
Don’t take your eyes off your valuables for a second. This begins at the airport and lasts until you arrive home. Don’t casually leave your bag, discarded clothing or anything similar sitting around while you attend to something else. Stay vigilant. Never give your credit card to an attendant for payment. Keep it in your possession at all times. Ensure your cards are kept in an rfid wallet. And when it comes to the bag you choose to carry around with you, it also should be of rfid material with extra security for the zippers. Ensure the bag can be carried across your chest and not just over a shoulder.
Luggage limits and Carry-On Bag
Check with the airline website to determine the weight and size of the luggage they will allow for your flight and ticket. If you fly economy you will be allowed one piece of luggage to be stored in the hold and one piece of luggage to be taken on board. You will pay for every extra kilogram for hold luggage and you will be asked to discard items from your carry-on to get within the cabin allowance. Buy an inexpensive set of scales to weigh your luggage before you set off to the airport, and ensure the dimensions of your baggage is within specification.
Transparent Bottles and Excluded Items
Many items are excluded from being taken into the cabin, particularly liquids and gels. Check with the airline website. Any permitted items must be placed in transparent containers, the sizes of which are also regulated. You can purchase small on-board flight containers in kits at your local department or travel store.
What to wear on the plane during a long haul flight
Long haul flights are not the place to make a fashion statement. Get into an old trackie and be comfortable. If you are uncomfortable about walking around the airport looking dressed-down then slip into a clean restroom and change from your street clothes just before the flight. But you will have to take them with you onto the plane which seems to defeat the entire purpose of being thrifty with the packing.
Buy a small blow up pillow and eye mask for the flight and include some of your favourite snacks. Put some well-chosen extra clothes into your carry-on bag, particularly undies, in case your luggage goes AWOL at the other end.
Plan Using These Travel Checklists
If you’re heading off to Europe and particularly if you have a family, then you need to start getting into your trip planning at least twelve months before you leave. You will find these two checklists very useful, particularly the ‘Mega Checklist: Planning The Trip – What To Do and When To Do It’. This checklist will help you identify all the things you have to do and when to do them.
Plan Your Travel Insurances
Plan Your Travel Insurance Carefully
- How to Plan Valid Travel Insurance
- How to Select Travel Insurance
Planning Health Insurance Really Matters
- One Traveller’s Experience – Could This Happen to You?
- Be Up Front About Your Health
Plan Your Travel Insurances Carefully
We add our voices to the thousands of others who have said,
if you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel.
How to Plan Travel Insurance
Make no mistake about it – an airline ticket without travel insurance is courting major trouble. But it is not just a matter of grabbing some travel insurance at the last moment as you rush out the door, as is done on many occasions. You just can’t buy travel insurance the day before the trip and believe you are covered. Oh no. That can be just as useless as having no travel insurance. The word is ‘disclosure’. Whereas you are free to choose your level of insurance, the insurer is carrying the risk and they want to know what risk they are carrying. Failure to disclose something that the insurer deems it is entitled to know may invalidate all claims, even if the claim is unrelated to the type of information that was not disclosed! Regrettably, many travellers making their way around Europe at any one time, even though they have paid for travel insurance, will not be successful should they have to make a claim.
How to Select Travel Insurance
We encourage you to take your selection of a policy very seriously and spend as much time as it takes to choose the right one for you. It may take weeks! A sound methodology is to make a list of items for which you want insurance cover and prioritise them. Search policies and review sites on the internet. An excellent example a site from Australia that reviews all available policies – 144 of them Choice Travel Insurance Review. Most countries would offer similar sites. Travellers from any country would benefit from looking at their relevant comparison site to get an idea of the range of products and services insurers offer. The information can usually also be downloaded as a spreadsheet which will allow you to systematically reduce your selection down to five policies.
Once you have identified some policies that meet your criteria, the hard work begins. It is a matter of downloading each policy statement and scrutinising the fine print carefully for what is actually being offered or withheld. Your final choice will, of course, be a compromise. All policies are different and it is unlikely any will match your priorities as closely as you would like. But you should be able to find a policy you’ll be happy with knowing that it is the best policy to fit your needs.
Planning Health Insurance Really Matters
We have separated Health Insurance from the previous comments about Travel Insurance because carefully planning this component matters even more. Health Insurance is included in any comprehensive travel policy but it is probably the source of most contention. It is that part of any policy where very large sums can be both awarded and denied.
One Traveler’s Experience – Could This Happen to You?
A few years ago when visiting a well-to-do European city, a friend of ours climbed up the internal staircase to a church’s belfry. Unfortunately, while up in the belfry, he slipped and broke his leg. The medics couldn’t get the stretcher down the narrow staircase, so the belfry had to be partially disassembled so a helicopter could be used to fly him off the tower. Following a stint in the hospital, he returned home to await the bill. It came – all $260,000 of it. That’s how easily and unexpectedly these things can happen. Our friend had travel insurance and although the insurer tested the case at arbitration, he had organised his health insurance properly with full disclosure and was awarded the claim.
Be Up Front About Your Health
Your policy of choice will list certain health conditions that the insurer will accept as part of the policy without any need of disclosure. This provision differs between policies. But where disclosure is required, particularly for pre-existing conditions, accept you are not perfect and tell them everything. And we mean – everything. You may find the insurer will still cover you for a precondition or require a supplementary payment. Alternatively, they may choose not to cover that precondition but that doesn’t mean that the insurance company won’t offer cover for the rest of the policy.
Plan What to Wear, Where to Stay and Eat, and What to See and Do
- Plan What to Wear in Europe
Plan Where to Stay
- Youth Hostels
- Beds And Breakfast
- Private Rooms
- Camping And Glamping
- Plan Where to Eat
- Plan What to See and Do
Plan What to Wear
In a word – anything! Travellers in Europe wear whatever they like and don’t look any different from patrons down at your local shopping centre. On hot days it’s sandals, shorts and t-shirts. You’ll also see some cotton trousers, jeans, slacks, shirts, blouses, dresses and joggers. As we said, anything you like – whatever your age. Just look at the images of Venice feature above. After being in Europe for a week you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. And don’t bother about the ‘uniform’ of blue shirt with the light coloured trousers and tan loafers, believing this will help you blend in with the locals. Everything about you will be screaming tourist so along with vigilance enjoy being what you are – a tourist. The same applies to the colder months, only more so. Everyone is buried under five or more layers of anything in order to stay warm and very little attention is given to what someone else is wearing – particularly if your teeth are chattering and you can’t feel your toes! Here is a quote from our post from Trogir. The quote adds some context to the points made above.
It’s hard to describe what clothes are like when they have been worn 5 days in a row, and that includes underwear and socks. I guess the best description is that they kindly just stand up themselves allowing you to manoeuvre in and out of them. Anyway, it was clear that the priority was to get some washing done and get it dry.
So don’t take any cotton clothes on the holiday. You won’t be able to iron them anyway. And ensure you take lots of undies. Pack light – you have to carry your luggage around everywhere with you. First time travellers usually make the mistake of trying to take too many clothes.
Plan Where to Stay in Europe
Where you plan to stay when in Europe is a complex combination of budget, itinerary, taste, purpose, length of stay and personality. There are so many alternatives it is always more fun to sample each. So here is a brief summary of a few possibilities.
Youth Hostels are for people who want real fun. There are inexpensive hostels at all major venues and usually, because travelling is such an egalitarian activity, all ages are welcome. Plan to share your time with many fellow travellers, mostly young, who willingly share stories, experiences and information about places you didn’t know existed. Backpackers in their 70’s frequent hostels so don’t be shy! All you trade for the advantages of hostelling are a bit of privacy and comfort. Sites that are typically searched are Hostelworld (https://www.hostelworld.com), Hostelz.com (https://www.hostelz.com) and Hostels.com (http://www.hostels.com).
The term ‘hotel’ usually promotes thoughts of large, multinational accommodation. But Europe is also populated with many smaller hotels, often family-owned. If you are not personally disposed to spending large sums of money on luxury accommodation, then these are for you. It’s a logic thing. As you are away from your accommodation for twelve hours each day and are unaware of it for another eight as you sleep, you don’t want to pay for something you’re not directly enjoying. Your needs are simple – a room that’s clean and warm, a comfortable bed, ample hot water, minimum noise and, if possible, access to a laundry. There are many international websites where you can search accommodation but also check out the small hotels listed by websites local to where you will be visiting. But be mindful that the price offered by any booking site may not necessarily include all the costs. For example, even though the booking site may list the correct price, you may find that when you get to the hotel extra charges appear. A more expensive hotel may consider the quoted price to be a published ‘accommodation cost’ only and will add extra fees and charges such as local taxes, room service charges and administration fees etc. Also be mindful of price ‘specials’ for rooms. These are genuine offers but they are usually for a reason. You might find yourself in a much smaller room, adjacent to an elevator shaft, in an attic space or facing the main road which carries heavy traffic and generates lots of noise. Should these criteria not concern you, go ahead and save some money by booking them. We do! We have used a range of sites but tend mostly to use www.booking.com, and then www.hotels.com and www.hotelscombined.com.
These are our preferred accommodation because they fit nicely into our travel strategy. We like to recover after our flight to Europe by staying in a hotel. Then it’s into the car and off.
Apartments will allow you flexibility. You won’t feel so bound to major venues knowing that you can be accommodated wherever you travel. And after eating restaurant food for a week you will probably start hankering for something home-cooked and will really appreciate access to a kitchen. You can also store food in the fridge and take it with you in a car using a cooler. You can have breakfast in the apartment, either lunch or dinner in a restaurant, and a picnic for the other meal. You can travel by the seat of your pants and usually book your apartment a day or two before you need it. This means you are not locked into arrangements and can respond to any change of plans that occur during the journey.
The major disadvantage of staying in apartments is seasonal variation in price. You need to be aware that the major apartment booking sites increase both the accommodation cost and their charges during the peak months of July and August. These increases are sometimes significant. Property cleaning charges can also be disproportionately expensive, particularly in summer. However, it is possible to identify some apartments that offer either modest cleaning charges or none at all.
We have used a range of booking sites, mostly www.airbnb and www.booking.com. We were finding the apartments being offered by http://www.booking.com were very competitive to Airbnb. Most hotel sites have now changed strategy and offer apartments due to the increase in their popularity. There are many providers.
Beds And Breakfast
B&B’s are plentiful across Europe. They are listed in all major booking sites and specialist websites. They offer simple to luxurious accommodation with appropriate pricing. However, they generally follow the same template; a room in which to sleep, either private or shared bathroom facilities, a communal space for relaxation and provision of breakfast for any extra charge. Some B&B’s may offer a packed lunch as an optional extra. There are a plethora of them across Europe so the easiest way to check them out is to search on the internet.
Some homeowners offer a bedroom with varying support. Facilities may or may not be shared with the homeowner and meals may or may not be provided. We haven’t used this type of accommodation.
Campervans are ubiquitous across Europe in the warmer months. Many travellers take advantage of the large number of companies that offer a range of campervan vacations. If you like carting your home around with you like a tortoise, then this is for you. Campervan vacations offer maximum itinerary flexibility. It is far too large a topic to outline here and dedicated websites would be a better option.
The rail network is the most popular way of moving across Europe and some travellers also use the mode to lessen the cost of accommodation. Night trains are popular and need to be booked ahead of time. Just don’t travel in isolation. Night Trains
Camping and Glamping
Camping is very popular in Europe and camping sites are located very conveniently to major centres. Facilities range from BYO to permanent structures, ranging from tents to bungalows, ready for immediate occupation. The mode is best reviewed by consulting dedicated sites. Just search on ‘camping in Europe’.
Plan Where to Eat in Europe
Eating the variety of food available is one of the real pleasures of travelling in Europe. However, the cost of meals, if not managed, can leave quite a hole in the budget. It pays to pre-plan meals before leaving and have a general strategy about what and where you will eat.
Our approach has always been the same. We stay in apartments where we cater for our own breakfast and prepare one other meal that can be carried in a backpack. Whether we eat it for lunch or dinner purely depends on convenience. The other meal is usually eaten in a café or restaurant. But here are some general ideas to assist your planning.
- Don’t always eat in the prominent tourist areas such as the main squares. It is very pleasant to enjoy a nice meal while surveying the passing parade but you may be paying quite a lot for what you cannot eat. You will find the catering and the ambience in the streets off the main drag equally satisfying.
- Plan to eat where the locals eat. Some restaurants will be teeming with locals who work in the area. This is usually a sign of good food at a reasonable price.
- The tastiest and most generous meals are often provided by the smaller, family-owned businesses. They can be less expensive because much of the preparation of the raw ingredients is done by the owners and if they own the premises, their overheads may be lower.
- Shop around. There are tons of places to eat so check a few out before you make your decision. Always check the menu and prices that are displayed outside the restaurant before you go in and confirm the prices you expect to pay when you complete your order before you eat.
- You might be brought water and a basket of bread as soon as you sit down. Check to see if it the plate is complimentary otherwise you may have to pay for it whether you eat it or not. Send it back immediately if you don’t want it and check your bill to ensure it didn’t get there!
- Always nominate the brand of the beverage you want to drink. Should you simply order a ‘beer’ you may be served with the most expensive boutique product in the cellar.
- Less expensive fast food outlets will always be well patronised, especially by the young. How this type of food fits into a balanced diet for a trip of several months is for each to decide.
Plan What to See and Do
You’ve lobbed into a city or large town and want to see all the venues that are important to you. Here are some planning ideas that might help.
- Local language. If you know a few words of the local language, use them. Everyone will enjoy your clumsy attempts to communicate and so will you.
- Afternoon closures. Many countries in Europe are still structured for siesta, particularly the hotter southern European countries such as Italy and Spain. In Colmar (France) for example, the school children are picked up at noon and returned to school at 2pm. Italy and Spain shut down in many regions between 1pm and 3pm. Always ensure you have planned a reserve activity that does not depend on a particular monument being open.
- Walk everywhere. We still think it’s the best way to see any city.
- Membership Cards. It is possible to obtain discounts on a range of cards, particularly for students. Older travellers should take their pension or senior’s cards. The discounts available are usually reserved for Europeans, but some centres do extend them to overseas visitors.
- Tourist Rip-offs are always with us. Avoid being photographed with the guy in the costume in front of a famous monument. He will expect you to pay for it. Same goes if you want to photo that quaint old lady. Be careful of ‘avoid the queue’ promises offered by some guides. Read the site reviews. You may simply be parked beside the venue’s entrance and get to go in after everyone else. And the guided tour you expected may not happen. And to think you paid twice the price for the privilege.
- Free walking tours. Each major city provides free walking tours. You simply turn up at the pre-arranged meeting point advised on the internet and an enthusiastic and well-informed guide will take you on a tour of the important sites in the city. Payment is by way of a voluntary contribution at the end of the tour. Some cities offer bicycle tours and even car tours. Just google ‘free walking tours’ for the city of choice.
- City Passes. Many cities offer a range of City Passes for a single, up-front cost that will provide you with unlimited travel across the city by bus and metro, and entry into listed monuments. They are usually valid for a few days to a week and offer considerable savings compared to purchasing separate entrance tickets.
- Hop On-Hop Off Tickets allow you to embark and disembark from a city tour bus that passes the majority of the major attractions along a predetermined route. But don’t forget bicycles, horses, carriages and all the other transport on offer.
Plan How to Travel Through Europe
Plan Using the Many Ways of Travelling Through Europe
Following is a brief summary of the many ways to make your way through Europe
Most travellers dip their toe into European travel by using the excellent intercity rail system. Companies such as Eurail offer many types of rail passes to satisfy most travellers. These must be purchased before travelling. But you can also purchase conventional rail tickets when you are in Europe and this should be considered when planning. Eurailpass You will be able to access Europe-wide timetables on sites such as DB Navigator https://www.bahn.com/en/view/booking-information/booking/db-navigator-app.shtml
Bus travel is an option that is often overlooked. It is not always necessary to travel by rail when comfortable bus options are available at much cheaper rates See Europe Buspass.
Taxis are plentiful in all large cities but their reputation is specific to the city you visit. In Sarajevo, for example, they are very inexpensive and you don’t charged when you get into the taxi. In other cities they will not only charge you for getting into the cab, but you’ll be lucky not to be charged for getting out! Not to mention the route they will choose. So ensure you research taxi use where you are visiting.
We prefer to travel by car, enjoying the convenience and flexibility it offers. Should you be overly concerned about planning to drive in countries where you don’t understand the language? Not if you take time to acquaint yourself with the road rules and road signs. And not if you drive conservatively using common sense. Directions are no longer an issue due to language options in Sat Navs, Google maps etc. There are many good websites which provide much useful advice about driving in Europe but the AA site is among the most comprehensive AA Driving in Europe. We also use Via Michelin https://www.viamichelin.com/. But here are a few practical tips that come from having driven many thousands of kilometres in Europe.
Size of the Car
Think carefully about the size of your car. Many websites recommend ‘thinking small’. We think there is more to it than that. Your first consideration should be whether your luggage will fit into the trunk of the car. You’re going to be transiting from one venue to another and leaving the car for breaks, meals and site-seeing along the way. If your luggage or belongings are visible on your back seat when you leave the car you may be asking for trouble. So why the recommendation to think small? It’s because driving in Europe is an art form. You are going to encounter many very narrow lanes and streets lined with other cars, vegetation or masonry. Sometimes you will even wonder if you can get out of the situation you have gotten yourself into. And parking is at a premium. Cars in some countries are parked under the ‘park it any way you can principle’. This means the rears of cars in narrow lanes are often poking out and you have to get around them – perhaps having to retract your side mirrors to do so. It’s that squeezy! But don’t let it put you off. It’s part of the adventure. Nevertheless, we have found having a slightly larger car in no way disadvantaged us. In fact, quite the opposite. One last reminder.
Share the Driving
You will be able to drive long distances on the excellent motorway system in Europe don’t overdo it. Swap drivers every two hours and stop regularly to top up on some food and fluids. Your concentration will depend on it!
Renting a Car
Should you choose to rent a car, it is generally recommended that you take photos of the vehicle before you drive it out of the compound. Take photos of any suggestion of damage or scratching you can find, including roof and underneath. The images show scratches far more clearly than naked eyesight. Your possession of the images should be able to help you settle any dispute that may arise when you surrender your car about your being responsible for pre-existing damage. Check out our experience when we drove from Athens to Meteora. But there is no doubt about it. The best way to see Europe is to drive through it.
Campervans are very popular in Europe and can be found on improbable roads in impossible places. There are many models and these need to be researched on commercial websites. They are mostly hired but sometimes long-term visitors purchase one with the intention of re-selling. When in Yper we had a curbside conversation with a couple from New Zealand who were on British passports. They had purchased their campervan in Europe at the start of their vacation and intended selling it before they returned home. We met them as they were celebrating the completion of their first twelve months of touring. They intended to stay in Europe for another twelve months and then return to New Zealand, resume working and move into a down-sized home they had purchased before leaving.
Air Travel Within Europe
If you’re going to be travelling long distances across Europe you can’t beat air travel. Many low-cost airline services are operating between European cities. But research carefully the pricing policy of any airline (drip pricing) and be aware that some low-cost carriers do not put down at the destination’s major terminal. If low-cost airlines are not to your taste then you may find the convenience and comfort of the standard flights are worth the extra expense for the ticket. We’ve booked directly with the airlines and also used Skyscanner https://www.skyscanner.com and Rome2rio https://www.rome2rio.com/ for bookings, but there are many other sites that will do the same job for you. But check them out to get a feel for how they can help you plan.
Ferries and Cruises
Ferries are an important link in European travel. They provide access to island venues and connect countries across waterways. They also provide the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing European cruise, the latter being a refreshing change within a longer vacation.
Bicycles or Motorbikes
Cycling in Europe is very popular and is the national sport in some countries. It is not uncommon on the road to overtake groups of well-laden cyclists as they make their way across Europe. The husband of a work colleague recently cycled across France with friends, sampling many of the Tour de France stages from the previous year. Sounds great! In Ypres, for example, grab a bicycle not only to make your way around the city of Ypres but also to tour the nearby battlefields. The same is true for bikers. Small to large friendship groups and clubs get out on the road, often during annual holidays, and carve through Europe for thousands of kilometres. We spoke to a couple of middle-aged German bikers in Kalabaka (Greece). They had ridden down from Munich via Albania and were now headed towards Athens before returning to Munich via Serbia and Slovenia. And all in three weeks! In Cortina (Italy) we lunched alongside a large group of bikers, also from Germany, who were all well beyond retirement age.
Finally, when in a European city grab a tourist map from the Tourist Centre or use an electronic map and walk. It really is the best way to see everything. You can also use the metro, tram, bus services and taxis. But keep an eye open for the local flavour. And don’t forget hiking. There are always organised hikes available wherever you visit.
Final Thoughts on Planning Your First Trip to Europe
Planning your first trip to Europe is not a difficult task but it does require you to identify and understand all the plans and arrangements you need to make. Start your planning by reading as much as possible about the venues you wish to visit and go over this post to identify what you need to do.
When you are travelling we recommend you keep a very simple blog. Experiences can be very easily and readily forgotten. A blog, updated on the day, later to be reviewed and supplemented with a few photos is a great way to keep your memories fresh. It’s amazing later when you later read back through your blog how many occasions would have been forgotten if they hadn’t been recorded.
Second, an informal blog that can be selectively shared during the trip allows family and close friends to enjoy the moment with you. Just enjoy expressing yourself through print. It allows you to put down on paper what you are experiencing and your responses to it. So, before you go on your next trip, consider writing a blog and spend some time on the net finding a blog style that suits your purpose.