Easy Travel Tips For Your Trip to Europe
Are you an over-planner or under-planner?
I am an over-planner. That is why I started this site in the first place.
This has positives and negatives.
When it is time to carry out the plan (i.e., take the trip), it’s been well researched (i.e., the trip is epic). On the flip side, it may cause unnecessary worry and effort to ensure the plan gets successfully executed.
These are the 11 European travel tips for your trip that need to be completed before taking off. Travelling doesn’t need cause worry. These simple travel tips will make your trip unforgettable and worry-free.
This is not an all encompassing list of things you need to do before your trip (e.g., you may need to get a passport, book hotels, train tickets, etc.). This is a list of travel tips for your vacation to Europe that will simply make your trip better.
Keep reading for the most useful tips for travel!
Travel Tips: 3-6 months before your departure date
1. Start learning how to say language basics
Visiting a place where the people do not speak your language can be a little intimidating. In many European countries, English is widely spoken as a second or third language, so this can generally be reverted to when needed.
However, the respect and credentials gained from knowing a few words of the local language can go a long way. You often hear that France and Italians treat travelers who attempt to speak their language better than those who do not. From my experience, this is true.
The connection made with locals when being able to converse (at least a little bit) in their language is also invaluable. One of my favorite memories took place during dinner at Osteria La Cantinella in Barolo, Italy. My wife and I gave our best shot at ordering our dishes and bottle of wine in Italian. We spent 5-10 minutes a day during the month leading up to our trip practicing the language.
Our waiter brought us our bottle of wine and explained in Italian where the grapes were grown and how it was produced. Realizing that we were not fluent Italian speakers, he spoke slowly with plenty of animation to better describe the words.
The best part was that he also spoke English, but he wanted to work with us on our Italian and he could not have been happier to do so. We gave ourselves a big pat on the back after that experience.
I will talk more about learning the language of your destination in a later blog post, but I do want to mention two resources that I have used. I am a believer in the 100 words and phrases rule (e.g., learn the 100 words and phrases that you will use most during your trip), but am also a big fan and have used the two services below in the past.
Duolingo – Download the free Duolingo app on your phone, tablet or computer and pick the language you want to learn. The courses are fun. You can create a group and compete against whoever you are traveling with to see who can get the most points before the trip.
Living Language – Online courses, books, and CDs starting at $28. I have used the book and CD packages (available here on Amazon) for both Italian and French with great success. If you want a comprehensive, structured way to learn a language, this is your best bet. You can work through the books, then reinforce pronunciations through the CDs. I would listen to these during my commute.
2. Book a flight with plenty of layover time for international connections
For 3 years, I flew all over the U.S. for my job. Every Monday I would fly to a client site and then fly back home on Thursday or Friday. I have had to make hundreds of connecting flights, but international connecting flights always seem to be the most hectic.
Pick a flight with plenty of layover time (2-3 hours).
A few reasons why international airport terminals are more congested:
International Customs and Border Patrol
This differs per country, but you will need to get your passports checked. Think of this line as similar to going through the regular security line at the airport.
Unfamiliar travelers in the international airport terminal
Generally, international travelers are not going to be familiar with the airport they are in causing long lines at the airport help desks.
The many different languages being spoken is an obvious challenge.
Let’s take a European country as an example. If you have a layover in say, Germany, you will get off of your plane, find your connecting flight gate information on a monitor, move towards that gate, and then have to get in line to get your passports checked before moving on to your gate.
That is best case scenario. During my last trip I had my passport checked by at least 4 different individuals! That is a lot of lines.
Travel Tips: 2-3 months before your departure date
3. Confirm that you have rental car insurance with your credit card (many do)
Many credit cards have built in rental car insurance so you do not need to purchase from the company you are renting the car from. For instance, my Chase Freedom has collision and theft rental car insurance (read more here) up to the actual cash value of the vehicle.
Check with your credit card company before booking the rental.
Also, refer to this list of credit cards from 10x Travel that outlines the best credit cards for traveling.
4. Reserve a rental car with automatic transmission if needed
If you know how to drive a manual transmission car, then feel free to skip to the next essential item. Unfortunately, I cannot drive a stick shift car.
A few months before my first trip to Europe, a friend was telling me about the trip he and his wife took to Italy. He mentioned that when they went to rent a car, they only had manual transmission ones available.
Luckily for them, his wife had a stick shift growing up, so it wasn’t a problem. Luckily for me, he told me this story because I had no idea I had to explicitly select an automatic transmission car.
Expect to pay 1.5x-2x more for an automatic car in Europe.
5. Book an Airbnb with a washing machine near the middle of your trip – or plan to hand wash
Do you like the idea of packing enough clothes for 1 week for a 2 week trip? How about not having to check a bag or carry around a big piece of luggage? If the answers are yes, then book an Airbnb with a washing machine near the middle of your trip.
Another option is to hand wash your clothes. Here is a great how to guide from Travel Fashion Girl
For the washing machine route, you can filter Airbnb search results to include only those that have a washing machine. Screenshots for how to do this can be found below.
Search the destination for your dates and number of guests. On the results page, click the “More filters” button at the top (#1). A pop-up will appear. Scroll down a bit to the Amenities section. Click “Show all amenities” (#2).
Check the box next the “Washer” (#3) and click on the “Show [number of search results] stays” button (#4). The search results will refresh with only those offerings with a washer.
Travel Tips: 1 month before your departure date
6. Make necessary restaurant reservations (and how to get a table without one)
I try not to make too many restaurant reservations when traveling because I like being as flexible as possible with my plans. However, I do make a few each trip at restaurants that I do not want to miss (like Dario Cecchini’s in Tuscany, Italy, Daniel et Denise in Lyon, France, or Osteria Rubbiara in Modena, Italy).
Most high quality restaurants in Europe take reservations. Make one for restaurants that you know you want to go to before you leave for your trip. They can be made either online, calling, or emailing.
If you do not have a reservation, I have found that you can often get a table if you go right at opening time before the dinner rush arrives.
1-2 weeks before your departure date
7. Get an International Driver’s Permit
An International Driver’s Permit (IDP) is a document translating your driver’s license into a form of identification accepting in 150 countries. Permits in the U.S. can be purchased from AAA. You will need to:
Download and fill out this application
Click here to find your nearest AAA branch office
Visit the location in #2 and bring:
Two original passport pictures – You can also take these pictures at the office, but it will cost $10 or so
Your valid U.S. driver’s license.
The permit costs $20. However, I got my latest permit in August 2019 and it cost me a total of $36 because I had to pay to get my passport photos taken. You can get passport photos taken at a variety of different places including shipping centers and pharmacies. Refer to this guide for more photo options.
Visit here for more information from AAA on purchasing an International Driver’s Permit.
Depending on the country, it is generally difficult to get a definitive answer on whether an IDP is a necessity. For instance, the U.S. Embassy here states that drivers “should” obtain a permit for driving in Italy.
I have never been asked to show my IDP. I was even pulled over at a traffic stop just outside of Pamplona, Spain and the officers did not ask to see this. They only wanted to see my passport and U.S. driver’s license.
With that said, ~1 hour and $36 every year or two (an IDP is valid for one year, so you can fit in multiple trips if staggered) is a small price to pay for peace of mind while driving in foreign countries. My opinion is better safe than sorry on this.
If you have any better information on this, please use the comments section below to post it!
8. Understand the eating routine of the place you are visiting
Depending on the country you are visiting, the eating schedule and food availability may differ from what you are used to. For instance, in Italy and France, restaurants generally open for lunch from around 12 PM – 3 PM, dinner from 7:30 PM – 12 AM or so and are closed for the rest of the day.
Alternatively, grocery stores, butchers and other businesses close during lunch and dinner hours.
Be aware of the eating schedule before you go so you can plan accordingly. I have hangry (angry because you are hungry) stories for some of our trips because we did not account for the eating schedule.
For instance, restaurants do not typically open for dinner until 9 PM or so in northern Spain. It is this late because locals eat small snacks called pinchos in the early evening.
On one of our first nights in Barcelona, we decided to go out to a nice dinner. We did not have any snacks (e.g., pinchos) because we thought that would be too much food. When 9 PM rolled around, we were basically pounding at the restaurant door.
Check out this this article from Insider for dinner times around the world.
9. Download Google Fit or Apple Health for mileage tracking
After a full day of exploring a city or hiking, it is always interesting to see how much ground we covered. I generally do not wear my GPS watch unless I am running, but most smart phones will automatically track this information as long as the right apps (see below) are downloaded.
For Android, download Google Fit. This does not come automatically installed on your Android phone.
For iPhone users, Apple Health is automatically installed and set up to track steps, stairs covered and distances.
Make sure to bring your phone with you while you are covering ground.
10. Download Google Translate and the language of your destination
Unless you are fluent in the language spoken at your destination, the Google Translate app is a must – download the app here. This app can translate voice, typed text and even real pictures through your camera. Reading that restaurant menu just got much easier.
To ensure that you have full translating capabilities while offline or without cell data services, download your language of choice by following these directions.
11. Download podcasts for in-flight listening
More downloading! Listening to podcasts is my favorite way make flights, commutes, and household chores more interesting. If you currently do not listen to podcasts, check out this beginner’s guide.
Once you have your listening method setup, search for podcasts that you want to listen to. There is something for everyone. Download the podcasts to your phone so you can listen while offline and in the air. Most carriers require you to be on WiFi to download to your phone.
For detailed download instructions, visit here if you have an Android.
Visit here if you are an iPhone user.
Did I Miss Anything?
What are the travel tips you have to do before your trip? Leave a comment below!