So you want to start planning a Europe trip. Where do you start? There are so many questions running through your mind -- where should I go? How much time do I need? What will I do while I’m there? How do I get around? What do I pack? The list seems never-ending. I feel you, my friend, and that’s why I wanted to create this guide for you! Though these examples are specific to Europe, you can apply these same steps to any international trip.
The first trip I ever planned was for work. My supervisor told me I needed to leave the next day and I’d visit five different facilities in four countries across Europe. Talk about trial by fire! After three hours of booking flights and hotels, shooting off emails, and packing up my desk, I sped home like a madwoman to pack the biggest suitcase you’ve ever seen. I still cringe when I think about that mammoth I hauled around for eighteen days.
Even though it was totally rushed and I had zero experience, everything went smoothly! The biggest takeaway from that experience was that planning an international trip isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems. This is true even if you know next to nothing about the place you’re going, and don’t have time to research! If I can pull it off in twenty-four hours, I guarantee you can do it with much less stress if you give yourself time to bring it all together.
***This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a booking using the link, I receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. This helps me keep the lights on around here. I ONLY recommend products and services I personally use and love.***
In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about planning a Europe trip so you can create the experience you’ve always wanted! We’ll talk about what to do before you even start researching, the process of creating your itinerary, booking all the necessities, and how to have a great time once you arrive.
This travel planning guide is for independent travelers who want to travel to Europe on their own terms. You won’t find information about multi-day group tours, or cruises. In each section of this guide, I’ve answered the most common questions people have at each step of the process when planning a Europe trip.
There are four parts to this guide that follow the steps for planning your trip:
- What to do before you start researching and booking.
- What goes into creating your itinerary and booking the necessities.
- What happens between booking and leaving on your grand adventure!
- All the info you need to make your trip to Europe run smoothly.
Bookmark this post so you can come back to it at each step of your travel planning process!
Planning a Europe Trip Part 1: Getting Started
For international travel, I like to start laying the groundwork at least six months before I plan to leave. You can do it in less time, but having plenty of time to find the best deals, research your destination, book accommodations before they sell out, will keep you from feeling overwhelmed. You won’t be booking everything that far in advance because there are decisions to be made before you start researching and booking anything at all. In this section, you’ll find answers the most common questions and everything you need to lay the foundation for an amazing trip.
3 steps to start planning a Europe trip:
- Passports and documentation
- Setting the parameters for your trip
- Choosing your destination(s)
What documents do I need if I’m traveling to Europe?
The most important thing you’ll need for your trip is your passport! I know this seems totally obvious, but hear me out. Depending on the backlog, the process can take up to six months if you don’t have a passport already.
When going to Europe, you’ll need to make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after you arrive. Many countries want to ensure your passport won’t expire while you’re visiting. The renewal process is pretty simple. The last time I did it, I went to my local Walgreens to get updated photos and sent them in with my old passport and renewal paperwork. I had my shiny new passport in about three weeks. Super simple!
Consider applying for Global Entry (US Citizens)
Global Entry is a program for US citizens that allows you to have a fast pass through passport control when you’re returning to the United States. It also comes with TSA Pre-Check, making getting through security a breeze for domestic and international flights.
It’s $100 for five years and well worth the money if you plan on traveling internationally just once a year! Since I got mine, it’s never taken me more than ten minutes to get through passport control and customs. Previously, I’d be stuck in these lines for hours! Honestly, this is one of the best tips I can give you in this travel planning guide to make your trip to Europe less stressful.
The application process is simple. You can get all the information and start your application from this government website. You’ll have to complete a full background check and then meet with a TSA agent for an interview. My interview was at the airport, but other options may be available in your area. The interview was about ten minutes long, and they asked questions about my travel plans. It was really easy!
Global Entry is especially handy if you’re like me and piece together flights on different airlines to get the best deals. Having the “fast pass” through passport control and customs makes the whole process of switching airlines and getting back through security much easier and more predictable.
What’s the best way to start planning a Europe trip?
The first step to planning a Europe trip is to decide how much time and money you have to spend. This will make every other decisions easier! Time and money are the parameters every part of your Europe trip will fit within. This article will help with planning your travel budget. Once you know how much money you have to spend determine the priorities for your Europe trip.
When it comes to maximizing the time you have to spend, build around long weekends and holidays if you’re using PTO. Look for holidays that aren’t celebrated in your destination to avoid crowds. This article about planning an itinerary can help you decide how to spend your days once you arrive. Research the most popular times to visit - or the peak season - and plan to go when fewer tourists are there. Traveling just outside these times (aka shoulder season) will help you save money and avoid huge crowds. If you go when everyone else is visiting, it’s harder to find deals and reservations book up faster.
You don’t need to have multiple weeks available to create an incredible trip to Europe! All you need is 7 to 10 days. Seven days in a place you’ve wanted to visit for so long is better than zero days, I promise! If you have a more flexible schedule and can work remotely or take long periods off, your primary consideration will be budget. Your budget will go much farther in Romania than in Norway!
Where should I travel in Europe?
If this is your first time planning a Europe trip, destinations that speak your native language will be the least intimidating. If you’re a native English speaker, the United Kingdom and Ireland are great places to start! However, there are plenty of other considerations when deciding where to visit, so keep reading.
Choosing a destination is the hardest part of planning a Europe trip, in my opinion. It’s tough to take all the amazing places and narrow your trip down to only a few you can string together! Also, there’s no one place that’s going to be perfect for everyone.
Knowing which type of traveler you are can help you choose a destination you’ll love. If you’re a Nature Lover, then a bustling city may not be the most enjoyable experience for you. You can use this article to learn about different types of travelers and discover which one(s) resonates with you. Once you understand your travel style, it’s easier to decide which European destinations will provide the experience you want.
Another thing to consider is the average daily cost of visiting. If your destination is less-popular, it may cost more to get there and back so look at flight prices. Also, consider how long it will take to get to your destination and home again if your timeline is less than ten days. These are important considerations, but there are a few other questions to think about. Here’s an article that covers choosing a destination in more detail.
Additional Considerations for Choosing Your Destinations
There are a few other elements to think about when deciding where to go on your Europe trip. The climate and any local events happening are two big ones. If you want to go to Scotland in August, the weather is lovely, but you may not know that the city will be packed because the Fringe Festival and Military Tattoo are both in full swing. Taking the time to learn a little more about the places you’re considering before making your final decision will help you choose the best place for your trip.
There are some easy ways to get information about your top destination choices. Start by looking at the tourism site for the country or city. You’ll learn more about things to do there, how to get around, and other details that can help you plan. Then get a guidebook for the destination(s). Personally, I love real books, so I buy used guidebooks at Thriftbooks.com to read through. The big things don’t change that much over time -- what to see, different regions, history, etc., so I don’t mind having a book that’s out of date. Plus, I’m a fan of reusing rather than purchasing new when I can.
Finalize Your Destination
Do some basic research on flights and accommodations. This will help you fill in your travel budget and outline your itinerary options.
1. Research entry requirements for each place on your list.
Do you need any specific documents or health screenings? Do they have a cost associated with them? When I start this phase, I create a spreadsheet to organize the information for each place to compare them easily when it’s time to make a final decision.
2. Get an idea of what flights and accommodations will cost.
Skyscanner.com is my go-to for finding a ton of flight information in one place. You can search for multi-city and open jaw flights on this site too. Here’s an article with tips for finding cheap flights for your trip to help you get started. For accommodations, Booking.com is my favorite for finding awesome places to stay in Europe. You can see a variety of accommodations all in one place! There are different types of accommodations to choose from, so check out this article for information about each and ways to save money.
3. Research how you’ll get from place to place.
You’ll need to get from the airport to the city, around the city itself, and from one place to another if you want to visit multiple places on your trip, which isn’t nearly as intimidating as it sounds, I promise! In this article, you can learn about the different ways to travel around Europe and how to decide which is best for your trip. Right now, all you need to know is what options you have, an idea of what they will cost, and how long they take.
Once you’ve done this preliminary research, it’s time to finalize your destination choices so you can start building your Europe itinerary. You can map out an itinerary for more than one option; just know that’s going to take extra time.
For the rest of this guide planning a Europe trip, we’ll assume you’ve chosen one place or a few close together for your trip.
Planning a Europe Trip Part 2: Creating Your Itinerary
Now that you’ve chosen a destination, we’ll start putting together the itinerary for your Europe trip! In this section of the travel planning guide, we will cover the six steps that go into creating your itinerary. You’ll find answers to common questions that include details steps for filling in the details of your travel plans.
6 steps to planning a Europe trip Itinerary:
- Entry requirements
- Basics of building an itinerary
- Mapping out dates for flights and accommodations
- Booking flights and accommodations
- Planning for transportation
- Planning for sights and activities
What do I need if I’m traveling to Europe?
Some European destinations may require a visa to enter or documentation regarding your health, especially with Covid on the scene. A quick internet search should provide all the information you need. A website from the local government will have the most accurate and up-to-date information. There may be certain timelines for applications, so set a reminder in your phone calendar for any dates you need to remember.
The requirements are subject to change quickly when it comes to health information. Make sure you know what the process and timelines are for your destination. Some require testing, even if you’re vaccinated. Others require you to complete a health form in advance like I had to do when traveling to Turkey. This site will help you find a test in your destination for testing while traveling. Also, at-home tests can work in many situations. This article has great information on at-home tests and other resources.
How do I make an itinerary?
There are an endless number of ways to spend your days in any European destination. First, decide any “must do” items for your visit. You’ll build your timelines around these. You can always refer to which type of traveler you are and look at the suggested activities. If you’re not sure what’s available in your destination, start by looking at the tourism board website (or your guidebook). They have great information about attractions and events. Locals run tourism board sites to promote their home to tourists, so they know!
Once you have a list of your “must-see” activities and sites, plan to do one or two per day. I know, you’re thinking, “But I can do WAY more than one or two things in a day!” Yes, you can. However, you’re going to find more things that interest you once you arrive.
Also, leaving time for a pint in the pub around the corner and a stop in the interesting little shop you find yourself walking past will make your trip to Europe all the more enjoyable. Honestly, the highlights of your days will often be the things you didn’t plan but stumbled upon as you went from one of your must-do activities to the next.
If your trip includes major cities, look at where the attractions you most want to see are located. You can bookmark them on your Google maps, so they’re easily accessible on the go. You’ll probably find things you want to see clustered close together in different parts of the city. Dedicate a day to each area rather than going back and forth. Spending most of a day in one area gives you time to get off the beaten path and see what else is around.
Did I mention leaving time for wandering? Trust me on this one.
There are many different ways to get around while you’re visiting, so research what’s available. Here’s an article that tells you more about each one and how to decide what’s best for you.
What is the best way to plan flights and accommodations?
Always start this part of your travel planning with affordable flights! Here’s an article with tips for finding cheap flights. Because flight prices vary widely from day to day and week to week, building around the most affordable flights will help you maximize your travel budget.
Start your search on Skyscanner by looking at a whole month at a time to see which block of days will be the cheapest. If you insist on specific dates, then you’re at the mercy of airline prices. There are plenty of other ways to save money on your trip!
Once you’ve found cheap flights, look at accommodations that match up with those dates; make sure to note any date changes for your arrival if you’re flying through multiple time zones. Booking.com is where I start because they have so many types of accommodations in one place, and it’s easy to see prices. Here’s an article where you can learn about the different types of accommodations, tips for saving money, and how to choose the best option for your experience.
Choose the top three accommodations for your dates based on your priorities. Make a pro/con list for each or send a message to the property with any questions you have. This is why an early start to planning a Europe trip is really helpful. It gives you plenty of time to get the information you want to make the best decision for your experience! Last-minute planning can leave you scrambling, feeling overwhelmed, and getting stuck with whatever’s left.
How soon should I start booking things while planning a Europe trip?
After you’ve mapped out your timelines, it’s time to start booking your trip. This is where we go from just planning a Europe trip to making it reality! Hitting the “purchase” button for those flights is its own kind of adrenaline rush. Keep a spreadsheet or document that you’ll organize by date to help you make sure everything lines up so you’re not accidentally without a place to stay one night or double-booked somewhere else.
Start by booking your flights. I always book directly through the airline rather than one of the online travel sites. This way, if there’s any kind of problem, you can work directly with the airline instead of having to go through a third party.
Once you’ve booked, make a note in your spreadsheet or document of:
- the airline
- your confirmation number
- departure date and time
- any layovers
- your arrival date and time
Next up, it’s time to book places to stay. Match up the arrival date of your flight with the check-in date of your accommodation. If you’re staying in more than one place, match the next check-in date with the check-out date of your previous stay. Sometimes this can get confusing, which is why having your planning document organized by date is helpful.
Make a note in your spreadsheet or document of:
- the property name
- check-in and check-out dates
- phone number
- confirmation number.
Then bookmark your accommodation on Google Maps, so it’s accessible when you arrive.
A note on booking multiple accommodations and then canceling what you don’t want -- this puts the local accommodation in a real bind. If you prefer to stay in a small, locally-owned place, it can be difficult for them to fill last-minute cancellations, affecting their livelihood! Please, choose the place you want to stay and only book one.
What is the best transportation in Europe?
There are a number of transportation options for planning a Europe trip. I’m always a fan of public transportation because it’s affordable, efficient, and a more sustainable option. You can reference this article for more information about planning for the different types of transportation.
You’ll need to plan for getting from the airport to your accommodation and around your destination. If your itinerary includes multiple stops, you need to plan how you’ll get from one place to the next. There are many different ways to travel around Europe, so make sure you explore your options. A rail pass or bus pass can be a great way to save money, if you want to create a multi-city itinerary.
If you’re choosing an option other than flying, you may not be able to purchase tickets more than 90 days in advance. Set a reminder in your calendar for train or bus tickets for when tickets will be available, so you don’t forget to book them. Make a note in your spreadsheet or document of departure and arrival locations, dates, and times. Bookmark these on your Google Maps as well.
You may need to print a physical paper ticket for some of these before leaving like I had to do for my bus rides in the Balkans. For other options, you may be able to access everything from an app. Make a note of what’s required, so you’ll know what you need when it’s time to start gathering everything before you leave.
What should I see and do during my Europe trip?
Research any popular attractions or activities you want to include on your trip. Find out if you can or need to pre-book tickets. I made the mistake of trying to book tickets to the Anne Frank House only a few days before my first trip to Amsterdam and missed out because all the visiting times were already booked for two months out! Lesson learned.
Also, check out the Go City passes available for major cities. They include many of the most popular sights and sometimes let you skip the line to get in. The pass can also save you money over paying each entrance fee separately, and some include public transportation!
Planning a Europe Trip Part 3: Preparing for Departure
Whew, we’ve already covered a lot of information for planning your Europe trip, but there's still more! I told you this was a complete guide! You’ve chosen an amazing destination for your European vacation and laid the foundation for an incredible experience. Now that you have those big pieces in place, let’s fill in the details.
What needs to happen between booking and getting on the plane? In this section of the travel planning guide, you’ll find nine things you’ll want to know before leaving on your trip. I’ll answer the most common questions and give you all the information you need to feel fully prepared when it’s time to go.
9 tips to prepare for your Europe trip:
- Decide on travel insurance
- Resources for researching your destination
- What to know about packing
- Make sure you can charge your devices
- Decide how you’ll using your cell phone
- Get your home ready
- Print documents to take with you
- How to get ready for departure day
- Getting ready for a long-haul flight
Do I need travel insurance?
In my early years of traveling, I never purchased travel insurance. Thankfully, I never needed it, though there were times it could have helped with canceled flights or delayed luggage. Over the years, I’ve seen how things can go sideways, and now I’m a fan of having the extra peace of mind. Travel insurance is really affordable, making it easy to insure your trip without too much additional expense. When you're planning a Europe trip, making room for this in your budget could save you a bundle in the long run.
World Nomads is my favorite for general travel insurance. Some of their policies cover Covid-related expenses, but not all, so double-check. If you want to make sure your trip is covered for Covid-related expenses, look for policies that cover “Cancel for Any Reason.” Here is a great list of travel insurance options that do cover Covid.
I chose one of these for my 40-day trip through the Balkans, and the comprehensive policy was less than $200. Thankfully, I didn’t need it, but it would have saved me much more than that if I had! Honestly, I don’t remember the specific one I went with. I made quite a few coverage comparisons and chose the one that worked best for my needs.
How do I find cool things to do in my destination?
You’ve already done preliminary research about your destination, and now it’s time to get into the details.
As I’ve mentioned, when planning a Europe trip, you can use Google Maps to bookmark different places you may want to visit in your destination. I love this feature! It means you don’t have to make a rigid plan for your days but can bookmark a bunch of things and decide what sounds awesome in the moment.
If you’re at an attraction on your “must-see” list, when you’re finished, you can look at your map and see what else is nearby! Don’t get so focused on going from place to place that you miss the magic in between, though.
If you are using public transportation, check to see if there’s an app you can use, which will often have a map of the system and allow you to purchase tickets directly on your phone. If you want to take a guidebook, you can cut out the pages you need instead of lugging the whole thing around.
Personally, I’ll put the important information on my phone or a separate paper to take and leave the book at home. For big cities, the DK Top 10 guidebooks are a great option. They’re lightweight and small! Here’s a great collection of ones for Europe.
Other things to research about your destination
Map out the best way to get to your accommodation from the airport, so you’re not trying to figure it out when you arrive tired and jet-lagged. Use this post to help you find the way that makes the most sense for you.
Find out if cash or credit card is preferred where you're going. You can get local currency from an ATM at the airport when you arrive. Depending on where you’re going, a taxi may not take credit cards.
Finally, save the numbers for your accommodations, local emergency services, the airlines you’ll be using, and the customer service numbers for your credit cards in your phone contacts.
What should I pack for a trip to Europe?
Packing is one of the most overwhelming parts of planning a Europe trip! It really deserves its own type of travel planning guide, which I’ll get working on for you right away!
You will want to take anything there’s even a chance you’ll need because you’re not sure you’ll be able to get it at your destination. This is not the case at all! Packing only the necessities is especially important if you’re traveling on a budget flight where there are restrictions for the size and weight of your luggage.
I fly with only a carry-on whenever possible. Spending three days wearing the same clothes in Copenhagen because our luggage didn’t make it with us was less than ideal. So, I usually do a round or two of practice packing to see how much will fit. Then I have to make the hard decisions about what to leave behind. If you trip is more than a week, plan to do laundry along the way.
If you have any prescription medications, talk to your insurance about getting a vacation refill. Usually, they will let you get one extra refill, so you have everything you need for your trip. Find out far enough in advance that you can make other arrangements with your doctor, if necessary.
Additional Packing Tips
You’ll probably have a souvenir or two to bring home with you, so plan to have a little extra room for this. I have a duffel bag that folds down flat to pack in the bottom of my luggage, just in case I want to check a bag on the way home. I’ll fill the duffel with my dirty clothes since I don’t care if those are delayed and put fragile items in my carry-on. I don’t buy many souvenirs anymore, but this has been useful over the years! You can find them at Target or REI.
No extra room to spare? Tickets to attractions and maps make great, lightweight souvenirs, plus you don’t have to spend anything extra.
Perhaps you want a smaller day bag for when you’re out sightseeing instead of the personal item you took on the plane. Because I travel with my laptop and don’t want to haul it or the bigger backpack every day, I have a little backpack from REI that folds in half so it can be flat in the bottom of my carry-on. When I’m out and about, I prefer that to the laptop backpack. It’s low-key and much smaller, so it doesn’t stand out.
Do I need an adapter for my electronics?
You’ll need an adapter to plug in your electronics when traveling abroad. I take two with me -- one for my laptop and one for my USB block that plugs into the wall. My husband has a small powerstrip he takes with him, which means you’d only need one adapter! Most of Europe uses the same adapter, except for the United Kingdom, but double-check, just to be sure you have what you need.
Ladies, if you have hair styling tools you want to pack, there are some things you’ll need to consider. The voltage is different, and using them overseas can ruin your products if done incorrectly. I did this on my first trip! My blow dryer sparked, let out a puff of smoke, and died. The end.
Since that first experience, I’ve gone the natural route, and now my hair takes approximately 30 seconds to do, so I’m not the best person to give beauty advice for traveling! Your accommodation may provide a hairdryer. If not, don’t worry; I did find some information for you! Here’s an article about using styling tools overseas.
How do you I access my money while traveling in Europe?
It’s quite easy to access your money and use your credit cards while traveling to Europe.
First, let your bank know where you’re traveling and the dates. Ask them if there are any special requirements for accessing your money while you’re gone. When you take money out of the ATM, your bank will calculate the exchange rate and charge you a fee for using an out-of-network ATM. I usually get a few hundred dollars at a time if I’m in a destination that prefers cash. That means I don’t need to use the ATM as often, which saves money on fees.
You’ll want to alert your credit cards as well. Many of them have a place where you can enter this information online. Others don’t need you to notify them because they have systems set up to detect fraudulent activity on their end. If you’ve never done this with your card, call to find out. They’ll let you know, and it will make things easier for future trips.
How do I use my cell phone in Europe?
There are a few different ways to do this, depending on your carrier. If you’re planning a Europe trip that's longer than a month, you may want to consider getting a SIM card when you arrive at your destination. This will allow you to access data and make local calls like you would at home. It also changes your phone number to a local one, so having a Google Voice number set up at home is helpful. Here’s an article with more information about using a local SIM card.
Because my trips are usually less than two months at a time, I go with one of the plans my carrier offers. I’m a Verizon user, and they have a monthly add-on that gives me a little bit of data, text and call minutes to use while I travel. Since I want to spend my time being present while I’m out and about, my phone time is reserved for when I’m in my accommodation or a cafe with wifi. The data has come in handy when I need to map my way somewhere or call an accommodation, but I don’t use it otherwise.
Check with your carrier to see what options they offer, then choose what makes the most sense for you.
What do I need to do with my home before I go on a trip?
This is one of the easiest parts to forget when you’re getting ready to travel! We get so focused on going to the place, and we forget to make sure everything is taken care of at home.
Make sure you put a hold on your mail, so you don’t come back to a pile overflowing your mailbox. If you have plants or pets, make arrangements for their care. I assume you wouldn’t leave your pets without care, but you’d be surprised what can slip your mind when you’re getting ready for a big trip! If you’re going in summer and have a yard, get someone to take care of that as well.
Find a low-wattage light you can leave on somewhere in the house for security purposes. It’s a good idea to make it look like someone is home, or at least like someone might be home. Let a neighbor you trust know that you’ll be gone and ask them to keep an eye on things for you. If you have a friend or family member nearby, see if they’ll stop over to check things out once a week.
What travel documents do I need to print?
As you're planning a Europe trip, keep any digital files in one place on your computer. Also keep your physical documents (passport, global entry, visas, etc.) together so they'll be easily accessible when it's time to go. It’s recommended to make a color copy of your passport and keep it somewhere separate from your actual passport. It’s also a good idea to give a copy to a family member or friend you trust.
Once you’ve finalized all your arrangements, you’ll want to make sure you have all the details easily accessible. Print any tickets you need for transportation or entry into attractions. Also, turn your document where you listed your reservation information into a one-pager (front and back) that you can print to keep with you. I share this document with the same friend or family member that keeps a copy of my passport, so someone knows where I’m supposed to be and when. If you’re traveling alone, this is an especially good idea.
What should you do before leaving for the airport?
Have a plan in place to help things run smoothly. On the day of your departure, your mind will be going a thousand miles a minute, if you’re anything like me. Jet lag can be a beast, but thankfully there are apps to help you start the transition to your destination’s time zone before you leave home. I’ve heard great things about Timeshifter, though I haven’t used it myself yet. It’s one of those things I forget and just have to deal with once I arrive. Someday I’ll remember!
Ensure you know how you’re getting to your departure airport and how much time you need. I always build in extra time to ease the anxiety when I travel. Nothing makes me want to crawl out of my skin more than worrying I’m going to miss a flight! I would much rather sit in the airport with a drink in hand for an extra hour than feel rushed and anxious as I start my epic trip.
If you don’t have someone to take you to the airport, you can schedule a pickup time hours in advance with Lyft, use a park and ride facility, pre-book an airport transfer, or call a traditional taxi. Here’s a post about the different ways to travel to and from the airport.
When I was flying home from Istanbul, my flight was at 6:55 AM, and the airport was at least 45 minutes from where I was staying. Having a transfer already arranged and the ability to confirm it the night before let me actually get some sleep until my 4 AM pickup.
What should I bring on a long haul flight?
- Refillable water bottle.
- Books, music, games, and movies loaded on your devices.
- Snacks in case you don’t like the food or get hungry between services.
- A pair of socks and underwear in case of delayed luggage, if you’re checking a bag.
- Medication or toiletries you will need during the flight. Pack a few day’s worth, just to be safe, if you’re checking a bag.
- Any documentation you’ll need to show at your destination.
If you’re crossing an ocean, you’ll most likely be spending the next eight hours or more in the process of getting to your destination. I wish I could say something to make the time pass more quickly. Long flights are one of the parts you just have to get through to get to the places you want to visit. Below you’ll find a few more tips for making your transit and arrival in Europe easier.
Tips for Making Travel Days More Comfortable
If my flight has more than ninety minutes until boarding, I’ll see if I can visit one of the lounges. Accessibility varies by airline, your frequent-flier status, etc. The lounge is a much more pleasant experience than sitting in the main terminal.
I have the Delta Platinum American Express because that’s the largest airline in my home airport. This card gives me access to the lounge for $39 where all the drinks and snacks are free (remember to tip your bartender!). I spend way more than $39 sitting at an airport bar for the same amount of time, and it’s not nearly as comfortable.
You’ll be asked to turn your phone on airplane mode before departure. Depending on how you’ve decided to use your device when you arrive, you may want to turn off your data as well. You can map the route you’ll take to get to your accommodation and download it, so you’ll have it available when you arrive. You’ll be able to see your location and surrounding area on Google Maps without data or wifi as long as you’ve looked at the area previously and leave your location on.
Planning a Europe Trip Part 4: Arriving In Your Destination
Woohoo! You've spent all this time planning a Europe trip and you’ve made it! Now it’s time for all the fun! In this part of the travel planning guide, we’ll answer your questions about making the transition to your destination as smooth as possible.
In this section of the travel planning guide, you’ll find seven tips that will make your arrival go smoothly and set you up to have the most amazing time! I’ve answered the most common questions and provided all the resources you need to make things super easy.
7 tips for a smooth arrival in your destination:
- Navigating passport control and customs
- Getting local currency
- Securing your belongings
- Gathering essential items for your stay
- Overcoming any language barriers
- Finding your way around
- How to get to your next destination, if you have one
What should I expect at passport control and customs in Europe?
Going through passport control is a simple process, though it can take a while. You’ll wait in line with the other passengers and approach the border control agent with your travel companions when it’s your turn. They’ll ask how long you’re staying, the purpose of your visit, and possibly where you’re staying, so have that information ready.
Once you’ve received your shiny new passport stamp, you’ll go through baggage claim and customs. Look around for an ATM, just in case they have them in this part of the airport. As long as you haven’t packed anything you plan to sell or more than $10k in cash, you can just go through the “Nothing to Declare” lane, which will be marked in green. As a standard traveler, you’ll always use this lane. I only mention this now in the travel planning guide because I didn’t know what to do when I encountered this on my first trip.
Can I get currency at the airport?
Yes! You can find ATMs in baggage claim or in the main terminal when you exit the secure area. I’ve never been to an airport that didn’t have one, but you may have to look around for a bit.
Once you’ve got your cash, it’s time to find your ride. You planned for this, so look for the signs pointing you in the right direction -- taxis, public transportation, etc.
How do I protect my belongings when traveling?
Let me start by saying that, in my experience, most people are kind and helpful. There isn’t a thief lurking around every corner waiting to mug you and steal your things. When planning a trip to Europe, the absolute best security is common sense. Do what you would do when visiting a big city in your home country and you should be just fine. Paying attention to what’s happening around you and who is in your space will deter the most questionable activity.
Safety is one of people's biggest concerns when visiting a place they’ve never been. First of all, don’t bring a bunch of valuables with you. Depending on your accommodation, there are different options for keeping your things secure while you’re out sightseeing for the day -- safes, lockers, etc. If you take more cash from the ATM than you want to carry around, stash it in a random place in your luggage that no one would find, like inside a pair of socks.
Tips for Securing Your Belongs While Sightseeing
When you’re getting ready to head out for the day, make sure your wallet and passport are somewhere you have to dig them out. The idea is that a thief would have to take your entire bag to get them. For me, this is inside a pocket inside a zippered part of my backpack. The only thing I ever carry in my pockets is my phone and loose change, and my pockets have zippers.
If you’re not going to carry a bag, make sure your pockets have zippers, and you keep your valuables in your front pockets. When I sit down in a park, at a café, etc., I make sure my bag isn’t in a place where someone can walk by and grab it. Sometimes I’ll set it on the ground and put my chair leg through one of the straps, just for another level of security.
How do you shop in a foreign country?
You’re definitely going to need to eat, but you may also find yourself needing toiletries, pain killers, or a bottle of wine. Depending on the destination, you might find what you need in separate shops instead of a grocery store like in the US. Even food items can be separated -- a cheese shop, an open-air produce stand, a butcher, and a dry goods store. For me, one of the fun parts of experiencing life in a foreign land is this simple act of gathering what I need.
Use your Google Maps while you have Wi-Fi to look for the different shops and bookmark them. It’s also fun to wander around your neighborhood to see what’s there. Sometimes small shops won’t be listed on your app, but you’ll find them tucked away on side streets. In my experience, the shopkeepers are helpful and kind. Depending on where you find yourself, you may be a novelty to them! On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself engaged in conversation because they’re curious about why I’ve chosen to visit and want to tell me about awesome things in the area.
How do you overcome language barriers in Europe?
Typically, people who work in tourism will speak some English, but it’s never guaranteed. When planning Europe trip, it’s helpful to learn a few basic phrases in the local language before you arrive, even if it's just “hello,” “please,” and “thank you.” Those few words and your willingness to try can go a long way. That being said, I’ve found that the language barrier has rarely been an issue when traveling in Europe.
You’d be surprised at how much you can actually communicate with pointing and a few hand gestures. Once, at a campground near Plitvice National Park in Croatia, I managed to get my clothes washed even though the washing machine labels were in German and my host was trying to explain to me in Croatian!
The Wordless Travel Book is a great little resource to take along if you’re concerned about the language barrier. It’s full of pictures you can point to and use to communicate. Plus, you can always turn on your data and use Google Translate in a pinch, too.
Will my Google Maps work in Europe?
Yes! Google Maps makes getting around in Europe easy. Make sure your phone is fully charged before setting out for the day. If you’ve bookmarked places, you’ll still see them on your map even if your data is off. You can pick up a paper map at the local tourist information office, which is always worth visiting. They’ll be able to tell you about any fun events and answer questions you might have. I’m a fan of walking, so that’s always my go-to for getting around a new place. However, in larger cities, a bus or metro may be a better option. This article has a ton of information about the different ways to get around and how to choose the best one(s) for your needs.
Tips for Getting to Your Next Destination
If your itinerary includes multiple stops, you’ll need to do the whole departure and arrival thing over again. If you’re using a different mode of transportation than you did on the first part of your trip, I recommend scouting out the place you’re leaving from, especially if you have an early departure.
When I was taking the bus from Albania to Montenegro, I went to the bus station the day before to know exactly where I needed to go the next morning. It’s a good thing I did because the bus terminal was tucked behind a gym, and it took me a bit to figure out that it was around the back.
The next morning, I knew how long I needed to get there and didn't feel stressed about finding the right place. Bonus, it’s a chance to do more exploring! I found more cool places around the area that I may have missed otherwise.
Go Forth and Adventure!
At this point, I hope you’re feeling more confident about planning a Europe trip. There’s a ton of information in this one travel planning guide, so be sure to bookmark it so you can come back at the different stages of putting your trip together.
If you’ve made it this far and found this information helpful, I’d love to stay connected! You can find me over on Instagram, where I share travel tips for creating your trips, my own adventures, and highlights from other travelers worldwide. You can also subscribe to the newsletter where you’ll receive updates, travel deals, inspiration, and resources for your upcoming adventures.
If you’d like to talk about the details of your travel plans or destination to get more insight, you can schedule a one-hour consultation with me. I love helping other indie travelers like you create the travel experiences they’ve always wanted to have! I’ll answer your questions and give you every last resource and bit of insight I’ve collected over the last thirteen years. You can schedule and purchase a consultation using this link.
Now get out there. The world is waiting for you!
What have you done to plan your own trips in the past?
Share any tips with your fellow indie travelers in the comments!