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Miscellaneous Planning Your Trip to Europe

Planning a trip to Europe is time consuming, so start planning well in advance of the trip. If you will be staying in vacation rentals, start planning at least six months before your travel dates so you can book the accommodations that you want.

The Very First Thing to Do

Check your passport
- Most countries require that your passport be valid for six months past the start date of your trip. Check your passport and renew it if necessary.

Planning and Preparation

If this your first trip to Europe
start by reading a good "Introduction to Europe" travel guide. I recommend:
Decide When to Go - High season in Europe is July and August. Prices are higher and many people are traveling. In parts of Europe it can get very hot. June and September are popular months with North American travelers. The days are long and the weather is moderate. In the off season the prices are better but the days are short and the weather may not be good. Northern countries have snowy and cold winters - even England!

Decide Where to Go - There are many wonderful places to visit in Europe, but do not try to see too much on one trip. You will have a more enjoyable trip if you pick one or two places and see them in depth. Start reading travel guidebooks and websites to see which countries interest you the most.

Order Your Maps and Guidebooks - Use printed and online travel guides to decide where you want to go and plan out the details. Use online maps to put together your trip plan.

I do a lot of research when planning a trip. I buy a guidebook for the country and study them to figure out where I want to go. I read novels set in the country or written by authors from the country. I read expat memoirs about living there. I read blogs, travel websites and message boards. I spend hours figuring out driving times on Google Maps. Trip planning takes a lot of time - but it is fun.

Pulling it All Together

If your travel dates are not fixed, this part can be tricky. You don't want to book your flights until you have your accommodations set, but you don't want to book your accommodations until you know what flights you will be on. If your travel dates are fixed or you are waiting for well priced flights, book your accommodations and assume you will get flights on the dates you want.

Book your accommodations - Vacation rentals can book up months in advance, especially in the summer months, so book these as early as possible. Remember that you will have to pay a large deposit (25% - 50%) on booking and either pay the rest before your trip or on arrival.

Hotels also fill up quickly in popular travel periods.

Book your flights - Comparison websites like Expedia.com let you review flight schedules. You can then book through them or directly on the airline website. I always book through the airline website, but I am usually using miles to upgrade and need to deal directly with the airline.

Try to get as direct a flight as possible. If you have to change planes when coming from North America to Europe, try to change in the US instead of in Europe (if you have the choice), to avoid that early morning jet-lagged wait in a European airport.

Look into the option of "open jaw" flights - arriving in one airport and departing from another - which lets you avoid traveling back to where you started on a trip. If you plan on renting a car, make sure you can drop off at the different location without paying a large fee.

If you will be traveling between countries, consider using European airlines for flights during your trip. Be aware that European airlines are more strict in their baggage allowances.

Travel Insurance - Now is the time to think about insurance in case you have to cancel the trip because of illness or a family emergency or if your health care insurance does not cover you when you travel.

Reasons why you may not need insurance: If your flights and accommodations can easily be cancelled and rebooked and your current health care insurance covers you when you travel.

Book your rental car - AutoEurope is a US based broker that is easy to work with and has very good prices. Make sure to review the insurance that comes with your rental. Are you insured for car rentals in Europe by your credit card or through your home car insurance? If not, you may want to purchase inclusive insurance through the car rental agency.

Figure out your communications - See if your cell phone will work in Europe (and check the International roaming prices). If it doesn't, you can purchase a cell phone and SIM card to use in Europe.

Create a detailed itinerary - Put everything you need to know about your trip in one document - flights, accommodation directions and contact information, driving times, etc. Bring a copy with you, leave one at home, email one to yourself so you can get it online (or store on the cloud somewhere).

Plan Your Day Trips

You have your trip dates and you know where you are staying. Now it is time to think about what you want to do while you are there.

See what is near you - If you are spending a week in a vacation rental, you have a good amount of time to explore the area. Don't plan on long drives every day. Instead focus on the things near where you are staying. For example, don't stay in Tuscany and plan a day trip to Rome. Instead, spend your week exploring Tuscany.

Book any day tours - Local tour guides can show you things you would never find on your own. You might also sign up for a cooking class.

I make a rough outline for the week I will be in a place, figuring out ahead of time what places I will visit each day. This makes me do the research and think about distances between places. I don't always stick to the plan when I am there.

A Few Weeks Before You Leave

Get your IDP
- You need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in some countries. The IDP is a translation of your driving license, so you need the IDP and your driving license. The Automobile Association website (US or UK) tells you in which countries it is needed. Americans driving in England do NOT need an IDP, but do need one for Italy. Set the IDP to start on the day you pick up your rental car.

Label your luggage - Put address tags on each bag, including carry-ons, and place address cards inside each bag. Take a photo of your luggage and keep it on your phone in case your luggage gets lost on your flight and you have to describe it.

Get some foreign currency - It is best to arrive with enough cash to get you through the first day. Don't count on the ATM machine in the airport working. You can get foreign currency from your bank. Once you start regular trips to Europe, always bring some cash home with you to use for the next trip.

Figure out what you want to bring - Get yourself organized with your packing a week or so before the trip. This avoids that day-before panic.


The Day You Leave

If you are like me, you will obsessively check to make sure you have your passport and drivers license. And that you closed the garage door when leaving.

Have a great trip!

by Pauline Kenny 2011, updated December 2012, updated March 2021


100+ Posts
You could add a bit about researching public transport options online at an early stage - both between cities (a good introductory resource here is www.seat61.com) and within them. Major cities will have much useful information and visitor advice online, and early investigation should help visitors start to feel at home.

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