how-to: travel in europe.

4 May

After manuevering my way through a European airport or two, I feel like I´ve picked up some tips and tricks in terms of how to make the most of a European vacation, whether it´s a 2-week, one-night-in-each-city jaunt, or shorter trips during a year abroad. Here are my suggestions:

get a guidebook. Guidebooks are great inspiration when you´re planning a trip. At home, I´d always head straight for the Travel section when I´d drag my mom or dad to Barnes and Noble with me. For Europe, your best bet is definitely Rick Steves (except his nightlife expertise is noticeably lacking). If this is your first trip to Europe, pick up his ¨Best of Europe¨ edition, or a more targeted, country-specific one if you´re focusing on only one region. I also am a fan of Lonely Planet (and the Encounter series in particular which I used in both Barcelona and Madrid).

book a flight. Keep a tab on low fares from the US using a site like travelzoo.com. If you´re under 26, you may be able to get a deal from a site like STA Travel as well. It´ll definitely help you keep costs down if you´re flexible about where you´re flying in and out of. Once you have a round-trip flight, you´ll be able to start planning your route. One suggestion: avoid changing planes at Heathrow if you can. If your lay-over is under 3 hours, I´m going to bet your luggage doesn´t make it to its final destination.

make a plan. Next, you´ll need to figure out where you want to go. Once you are on the continent of Europe, you´ll be surprised just where you can go using those budget airlines. I´ve flown to Portugal for 22 euro since being here, for example. To check out flight prices and times, your best bet is skyscanner.es – it will compile different airlines´offerings in an easy-to-use format. You may want to limit your trip to one geographical area, or use buses or trains if that is a cheaper, convenient option. For Spain train travel, check out renfe.com.

meeting the requirements. One thing about budget airlines in Europe, however, is they´re all about the fine print. Ryanair and Easyjet, while cheap and relatively reliable, only allow passengers ONE carry-on bag, and that includes purses or shopping bags. EVERYTHING you carry on must fit inside your duffle or small suitcase, and that bag must adhere to their size requirements. I use the LeSportsac Weekender Bag and have always been able to walk right on board. You definitely don´t want to be slapped with a 40 euro fine for having to check a bag last minute. Additionally, some budget airlines like Ryanair require passangers to print out their boarding passes ahead of time. Once you travel on an airline like this once, though, it´s a very easy, seamless process.

lodging. Another important step in the trip planning process is booking your hotel or hostel. In the past, I´ve used both booking.com (for hotels) and hostelbookers.com (for hostels). I´ve had good experiences with both, but DEFINITELY heed the advice listed by previous hotel/hostel guests. If I´d read the reviews of Barcelona´s Pension Picasso a little more carefully, I for sure would have ended up somewhere less sketch.

other tips. 

  • I use a see-through, plastic envelope to carry all of my travel documents and my passport with me to the airport. That way, I can easily make sure I have everything, and papers won´t get wet or torn.
  • If I´m traveling somewhere I don´t have a guidebook for, I´ll print out the entry on that place from Wikitravel, and consult it during my trip. I also enjoy the 36 Hours series from the New York Times.
  • Always be sure to bring a pen with you, especially if you have to go through customs. No one wants to be that guy having to hover over a stranger, waiting for him or her to figure out how to correctly fill out the forms.
  • If I´m traveling, my ¨I can´t forget¨ list includes: a book or my Kindle, iPod, chargers and outlet converters, hand sanitizer, camera, and sunscreen.
  • Always allow enough time to get to and from the airport. On my recent trip to Mallorca, we waited about 40 minutes for a bus that never came to go back to the airport. We were fine and split a cab, but had we not allowed several hours of flex time before our flight, we wouldn´t have made it to Barcelona and I would be in a severe depression.
  • Go with the flow. The museum you´d been stoked to see is closed on Mondays? It´s raining and your whole plan was to lay out by the beach? Don´t stress and enjoy the time you have – make friends with the other people in your hostel, try a meal you´d never dare to back home, etc.
What are YOUR European travel tips and tricks? 
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