Here’s my 10 tips for pre-planning your next European vacation:
1. Set up a budget.
I’m not going to go too much into detail about setting a budget. Just know what you’re willing to spend and leave yourself a substantial amount for emergencies, such as if you’re robbed, lose your clothing, need healthcare that isn’t covered under your travel insurance, etc. You need to know what you have available before you even think about booking a flight and hotel.
2. Pick a place.
Where are you going to go? Trust me, I know this is easier said than done on the best of days. There’s so much to see and do in the Old World that it’s hard to narrow that bucket list down to one or two that can be squeezed into a vacation while making sure you get to see all the sites you want to. You need to know your budget before settling on a place, and your destination is super important for #3.
3. Get your paperwork in order.
A passport will take up to a month and a half to receive in the mail after applying. Fast-tracking your application will cost an extra $60 or more. If you already have one, check your expiry date and make sure it will be valid as per the country’s entry requirements (ie., some require you to have up to six months left on your passport in order to gain entry. Also check the visa requirements of your destination to make sure you don’t need to apply in advance. Next, head over to the CDC website and see what shots you’ll require to travel in your country or countries of choice. Last, if you’re planning to drive, check to see whether your driver’s license will be valid or if an international driver’s license will be required.
4. Itinerary time.
At this point, I don’t even know how I’m going to get where I’m going. You want to know your itinerary first, to make best use of all the options that are available out there. Especially in Europe. For instance, a cruise is a great way to see multiple countries on a budget, but you’ll be confined to the ship much of your time. Another good idea is to grab the cheapest flight to the cheapest country and then travel throughout the continent using a Eurail pass. Individual flights are a great way to get where you’re going but can get costly, even when jumping on discount airlines like Ryan Air. Know approximately what you want to see, decide what’s most important and what can wait if budget or time constraints become an issue. Make sure to write down the prices for attractions that aren’t free.
5. Book your transportation.
In the past, cheaper deals could be found by booking your flights well in advance. This isn’t a universal truth anymore, however, because of the stiff competition airlines and cruise companies face from one another. After you know what it’s going to cost once you land, you can now compare airline prices across the Internet to find the best deal on whatever method you’ll be using.
6. Book your stay.
If money is no concern and you’re looking to live in the lap of luxury during your stay, there will always be room for you at the Hilton or some other swanky hotel in Europe. If, on the other hand, you have specific money or location requirements, such as wanting to experience a hostel for the first time or the desire to camp somewhere special, you’ll want to do some research to find the best deal and to make sure you get what you want. See our hotel comparison tool for the best deals possible.
7. Buy travel insurance.
Just do it! Your country’s universal healthcare system probably won’t cover most things while you’re away. In fact, I can’t think of one system around the world that does. If you break a limb, have a heart attack, sprain your ankle, get an infected insect bit, need to be airlifted, etc., you’re going to be on the hook for thousands — tens and even hundreds of thousands for injuries that you’d take for granted at home. This goes double if you’re from the U.S. and pay for your own health insurance — they likely won’t cover anything or will require you pay additional fees for international coverage.
8. Look into local transport.
Will you need to reserve a rental car? How about a local train or bus pass to get around with? You need to know what you’re looking for once you land, particularly when it comes to car rentals as many city centers will be sold out by the time you land. Amsterdam, Italy, and many others offer bicycle-sharing and cheap rental programs that you can use to get around on the cheap.
9. Tackle the last-minute stuff.
Make sure you follow up with any people you need to before flight day arrives. Call your credit card and bank companies and let them know where you’ll be traveling. Figure out where to get the best deals on currency conversion (tip: likely not at your in-country bank!) Decide on phone coverage: will you use your current provider or do you need to get an international plan so you don’t burn a month’s rent reassuring your parents and grandparents that you’re doing okay every night. If you need any special equipment, such as hiking gear, make sure to get it before you leave to avoid paying excessive markups at your destination. Get your ducks in a row and you’ll enjoy your vacation instead of being miserable.
10. Pack — early!
Science is clear on this. If you wait til the last minute, you’re over twice as likely to forget something. Start packing up to a week in advance and your mind will have time to go over your inventory, most times subconsciously. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve pre-packed most of the items I needed, then suddenly out of nowhere remembered a battery charger or gift item that I intended for a European friend, that I had forgot to pack. Once you’re on the plane, it’s too late folks!
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Happy and safe travels!
Main Image Credit: mariusz kluzniak/Flickr