10 tips for a successful Europe trip!
I’ve been fortunate in being able to see travel a lot in Europe (HERE is a list of where you should go and when). I’ve also had my share of mishaps while traveling. Learn from my mistakes, here are 10 quick and dirty tips for a successful (fun/non-wallet breaking/awesome) European Vacation!
1 | Remember that you can be frugal.
This is dangerous territory, keyword being can. When Dan and I travel we nearly always use Airbnb.com, sleeping in someone’s extra room or spare apartment. This means that we don’t get the royal treatment of fresh towels and a hot breakfast in the lobby BUT we do save a ton on lodging expenses. To keep our minds at ease though, I only book at places with lots of great reviews. Check out the view from the balcony of the amazing Airbnb apartment we stayed at in the very center of this historic district in Prague.You can also be frugal in lots of other ways –
- Limit your fine dining. Street food is usually amazing.
- Book museum and transit tickets far in advance for great savings.
- Think of souvenirs for their long term use. I spent $200 on a leather purse in Italy that I barely use though it smells amazing it’s not functional.
2 | Don’t blindly follow a guide book.
I am a huge fan of Rick Steves’ guides, especially his walking tours, but I’ve found myself far too many times disputing information from his and other guidebooks. Consult Google for museum/restaurant/winery hours and directions and ask a local where to eat. It’s a known fact that if a guide book gives a stamp of approval on a restaurant that it inevitably it turns into a booming cash cow. Demand goes up, quality goes down.
3 | Don’t overbook yourself. Use TripAdvisor to build an itinerary.
When Dan and I visited Spain in 2012, I was so thrilled to share the sights with him that over our 8 days in the country we stayed in 5 different hotels. At the end we ran out of interest in seeing “another” church/museum/town, when in reality they were famous sights that I had been dying to see. We returned from the trip exhausted – needing a vacation to recover from our vacation. I HIGHLY recommend using TripAdvisor forums to build your itinerary. I often hear about overly demanding itineraries from US friends that only have 1 week to spare but want to see Barcelona, Rome, AND London. It isn’t going to happen and will leave you: a. not seeing authentic life (i.e. you NEED to sit in a cafe in Paris one day and slowly sip on coffee) b. wasting precious hours in transit. If you’re really interested to see one place, for example Vienna, use TripAdvisor and search “Vienna Itinerary”, after reading through a few forums you’ll see that Salzburg, a beautiful abbey in Melk and Budapest will come up as reasonable options to complete your vacation. You don’t have to start from scratch – read through other people’s itineraries and you’ll often find great suggestions and tips on transit and lodging.
4 | Do not rent a car.
You will ultimately regret the hassle and headache of driving and parking on all those pretty winding streets. Furthermore, rental cars aren’t cheap – mainly rental car insurance, which often can cost 2-3 times the actual rental car fees. When work brought me to Germany in 2011 and 2012, we’d consistently allot a minimum of $1500 for a two week rental. By comparison, a two week rental stateside runs around $450. Also – one way rentals (pickup in Berlin, drop off in Munich) only adds more fees.
5 | Be organized.
I’m talking Google docs, folders, laminated calendars. Whatever your method, consider your European vacation your most important business meeting. Be 100% prepared. Most (if not all) tours do not reimburse if you miss the start time, low cost carriers like Ryan Air require that you have a printed boarding pass, and most importantly, that beloved iPhone of yours won’t be trusty handheld GPS. Dust off those map reading skills from your 8th grade World Geography class.
6 | Take a tour.
Do not expect to just ‘see the sights’. Think – Paris has 13 million people, New York City only has 8. Book a guided tour – whether on foot, bike or bus. You’ll be SO happy for a structured orientation to the city. After the tour, march off in whatever direction appealed to you most. My preference? A FOOD tour. Here are my tour recommendations.
7 | Make the most of the morning!
Get UP. You have the rest of your year to sleep in. If you’re in Europe, rise to the occasion. Front-load your days, plan a tour or big museum in the morning then spending the afternoon relaxing in a cafe.
8 | Understand Electricity.
I cannot overstate how important it is to know the difference between a power adapter and power converter. An adapter is a basic tool that retrofits your US plug to ‘adapt’ to the outlet in the wall. A power converter actually transforms the power current to match the voltage coming from the wall (so descriptive, I know). Keep in mind that the voltage in UK and Northern Europe is match faster than the US therefore a converter slows it down to work properly with your device. True story: In the UK I made the fateful mistake of using only an adapter with my hair straightener, and not a power converter. I literally melted my hair and straightener. It smelt awful (burnt hair) and was a horrific start to my three week visit. Read this great guide from REI on the subject.
9 | Remember your body.
I direct this to the ladies out there, men (especially Dan) seem to have ironclad stomachs. Long are the college days when I could eat an entire Chipotle burrito, chips & guac without feeling sick to my stomach. When visiting Europe you can count on having some of the BEST meals you’ve ever eaten, but you must stick with some sort of balance otherwise you’re going to feel bloated and gross 3 days in. In Italy, perhaps instead of having your third pizza of the day, substitute a caprese salad. Limit gorging and envision some form of the food guide pyramid. Go to a local market, buy an apple and eat it, you’ll be glad you did.
10 | Packing.
This one is the beast, that’s why it comes last. This is mainly geared for the ladies- who doesn’t want to be wearing their cutest coat for all your Instagram pictures in London or an adorable LBD and heels in Rome?
Here are the basics:
- Brown OR Black: Unless you’re going for more than two weeks, pick one route or the other. If it’s brown, then bring only shoes and outfits that are or match brown tones. Black, well then have at it with black boots, wedges and flats and matching outfits. Yes, you want to pack everything because it’s vacation but undoubtedly you’ll be cursing your bag later when you’re hauling on and off trains and up and down stairs. The one caveat, nude pumps and flats – because I love them and they always get to join the party.
- Roll, baby, Roll: Just do it. Roll ALL of your clothes, scarves, whatever. It’ll save you a TON of space and amazingly, reduce wrinkles.
- If you can’t comfortably walk a mile in those shoes then leave them in the closet. Mark my words, you’ll be walking A LOT, don’t put yourself through pain if you don’t have to. I love Sperry’s because they go with pants and shorts, are waterproof and still somewhat preppy.
- Blend in: Europeans as a whole are trendy and chic, don’t instantly brand yourself as a tourist with some loud t-shirt. You’re already going to stick out like a sore thumb with your giant map and camera, give yourself a break so when you finally settle into a cozy little restaurant you can trick everyone else (and yourself) into thinking you’re a local.
- Bring a rain jacket. No matter where or when you go, you’ll use it at least once.
ANDDDD: HAVE FUN! Remember it’s vacation, make the most of wherever you end up. You will likely miss a bus, lose a ticket or get lost. Be positive and enjoy yourself! If you don’t get to check everything off your list that’s just a great reason to go back one day!