While I am certainly not a European Travel Planning Expert, I did learn a thing or two with our first trip. Planning a 12 day vacation that spans three foreign countries is hard work! I went into this with the thought that this might be the only trip I ever take to Europe. While I certainly hope that isn’t the case, I wanted to do this trip right – not miss a single thing, take full advantage of our time in each city, and not go home saying “I wish we would have (insert any number of things here)”. If you’re considering or planning a trip to Europe (ahem, honeymoon!), some of these ideas might be helpful to you.
Top Ten European Travel Planning Tips
- Do your research. Get yourself some travel books and learn what makes your destination(s) so great. There are a ton of options out there but I liked the Top Ten books from DK Eyewitness the best. They were super helpful in finding out the highlights of each city and determining what we wanted to check out while in town. The books also offer useful tips about the culture and how the locals behave.
- Learn some of the language. Hello, please, thank you, table for two, where are the restrooms, and other staple phrases. While a lot of people spoke English, it certainly wasn’t everyone. Knowing a few key words and being able to read signs and at least order from a menu will make your trip a lot less stressful. Plus, you’ll be much more well-liked by the locals when you at least attempt to speak their language. Try DuoLingo! I used this app to learn Italian for a few months before our trip and I felt pretty confident communicating once we were there.
- Develop a loose itinerary for each day. You don’t have to schedule every hour but have a general idea of what you’re doing to do each day ahead of time. Some attractions are closed on certain days and you’ll want to map things out in advance to ensure you are maximizing your time and not missing any key points!
- Pack lightly and strategically. You’ll most likely be carrying your bag throughout an airport or city or up and down multiple flights of stairs (I swear elevators don’t exist in Europe). Do not overpack! Learn what the weather will be like and go through your wardrobe a few weeks ahead of your trip. Select pieces in the same color scheme that can easily mix and match. Plan to rewear items or purchase travel-size packets of laundry detergent and do some sink washing. I took two pairs of jeans, two pairs of black leggings, seven shirts, a few scarfs, and dainty jewelry to accessorize. It was a near-perfect amount of clothing.
- Try AirBnB. We gave AirBnB a whirl for the first time and booked flats for both Barcelona and Paris. You feel like you’re actually living in the city, not to mention AirBnB is often less expensive than a hotel. Although there were some niceties of staying in a hotel that I did mildly miss (like fresh towels every day and having someone clean up after me), AirBnB is a nice alternative if you’re looking to save some money or for a more local, authentic experience.
- Get outside of your comfort zone. When in Rome, right? Don’t get afraid to try strange foods, new experiences, or some of the local customs. When will you ever have this opportunity again? Take full advantage of it!
- Use TripIt. This app will help you stay organized during planning and your time away. You can sync it with your calendar or upload all of your flight, transportation, accommodation, and tour information. All of your confirmation numbers, addresses, and directions are in one place. No need for a hundred print outs or searching through emails to find what you need!
- Learn how to get around but also plan on doing a sh!t ton of walking. Get an idea of how public transportation works wherever you’re going. Most European cities have a metro or bus system that is light years beyond Port Authority. The systems are easy to navigate and getting around is pretty simple. However, the best way to see the city is on your own two feet. That’s the way the locals do it; most people just walk everywhere. We averaged around 13 miles every day. My legs have never been so tired but I’m glad I packed comfortable shoes! I had one pair of Toms and one pair of Puma sneaks and would alternate each day.
- You might not need that international data plan. We looked into our carrier’s international plan but ultimately decided to forgo it. The plan didn’t include that much extra data and anything over that is really expensive. So we relied on WiFi during the trip. It certainly made things interesting considering the only time we could connect was in our flat or at a coffee shop or restaurant. But that’s kind of part of the fun. I can now read an actual map like a pro.
- Look for deals. Paris offers a pass that will gain you entry into numerous museums at a fraction of the cost. The Barcelona metro has a 10-ticket pass that can be shared between travelers. Keep your eyes peeled for other deals such as these to shave a few bucks off your budget.
- Stay germ-free! Carry a travel size bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times. Hand rails, door handles, various screens, menus…you’ll be touch A LOT of surfaces and most of them are gross. Plus, not every restroom has soap and/or paper towel. Pack some Airborne or Emergen-C and take it before and after every flight or train ride. The last thing you want is to be sick in a foreign county. Check out my friend’s blog for more tips on how to stay healthy while traveling!
Ok, that was actually 11 tips. I’m feeling generous. These hacks aren’t Europe-exclusive! Try some of them for honeymoon planning or any domestic trip you have in the works. What did you think? Have you traveled abroad before? What other advice would offer up to first-timers or those just looking for some extra help?