Archive | December, 2013

5 Tips for Traveling Europe

30 Dec

Andrew and I took a trip to Europe in October!  It was wonderful, everything that we’d imagined it would be.  But it was A LOT of work to plan.  In fact, I would joke with Andrew that it was practically a part-time job organizing this vacation.  We started in London, hopped over to Paris, then visited Cinque Terre on our way to Rome.

I feel like we did a pretty great job guiding ourselves on our trip.  The travel went extremely smooth, and there were no big snafus.  Success!  So here are my top 5 tips for traveling Europe:

Europe Tips

1. Spend money like you would in the States.  In the past, travelers checks were a popular way to spend money while on vacation.  Not anymore!  Nowadays, the entire world accepts Visa and American Express, so you can spend on your debit or credit card like you would at home.  It takes away the stress of exchanging cash in every new country, plus you won’t need to worry about learning the currency system.  Know how much your credit cards are going to charge you for converting international currency, and in most cases it’ll be worth it {our fess were 1% of whatever we were charging}.  And remember to notify your bank/credit card company that you’ll be out of the country!  However, cash is very prevalent in Europe, so it will be handy to have it on you for the places that only accept cash.  Some of the best food will be at carts on the streets, and they won’t accept plastic 🙂  Andrew and I found that exact change was usually expected, and large denominations were annoying to some people.

2. Get the most out of your smart phone.  Here are some of the ways we used our phones while traveling abroad:

  • Take the SIM card out.  Before we left, we were concerned that switching our phones to “airplane mode” wouldn’t eliminate the risk of incurring international roaming charges.  We wanted to use the wireless capability on our phones, but avoid any international fees for service {especially since we didn’t plan to use the calling feature}.  We had an “oh duh!” moment when we realized that we could just take out our SIM cards, which meant our phones couldn’t roam, even accidentally.  Problem solved!  We simply connected to wireless internet whenever we could {which was most of the time}.
  • Download apps.  Whether you’ll be using your phone or tablet while traveling, apps are going to be a lifesaver.  Everything from city maps to subway directions to airplane boarding passes can be at the tips of your fingers.  I created a folder on my phone to organize everything we used.  I would especially recommend City Maps 2 Go, a free app that allows you to store city maps on your phone which you can use offline.  It was a wonderful resource during those times when we didn’t have wireless internet, but needed directions.  The maps are a bit hard to read, but for free, it’s definitely worth it.

apps

  • Screenshots.  If you’re going to be depending on wireless connectivity {like we did}, you may not always be able to use your phone while you’re out and about.  Which is why Andrew and I would plan our day in the morning before we left, and then screenshot any directions we might need throughout the day.  That way we could just flip through them whenever we needed.

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3. Carry-on your luggage.  This one may be challenging to some people 🙂  Andrew and I traveled for 16 days, and each brought one carry-on size luggage plus a bag.  We also had the luxury of a washer and dryer at all of our apartments, so we could pack lightly and wash along the way.  But it was extremely helpful to have a minimum of luggage, especially while hopping between airports, subways, and train stations.  And it’s amazing what you’ll pack when you have the option to do so.  Without that ability, it really makes you think about what you’ll be bringing with you.  Also, you’ll be less likely to loose your luggage!  In addition to your carry-on luggage, I highly recommend the Longchamp “Le Pliage” large tote.  It was great for lugging around while traveling, but also doubled as my purse while sightseeing.  The large size means you can carry around tons of stuff, it’s water proof, and the single zipper on top deters theft/pickpockets.

4. Visit during the off-season.  October was a wonderful time to travel Europe.  There were a few rainy days here and there, but for the most part it was sunny and dry.  Apart from the weather, traveling during the off-season means fewer tourists and less crowds.  Keep in mind that Europe will always have crowds, and there will always be tourists.  But if it was touristy in October, I can’t imagine what it’s like May-September {American vacation time}.  If you’re looking to avoid hours of wasting away in a crowded line, then try to travel October-April.  Plus you won’t be sweltering in hot weather 🙂

5. Always grab the audio guide.  You will be visiting countless museums and churches while in Europe.  There will be thousands of years of history all around, and it’ll be completely lost on you unless you have someone telling you what it all means.  That’s where the auido/multimedia guides come in.  They’ll be at almost every museum and church you visit, and it will allow you walk yourself through a tour, while listening to the history and stories.  We LOVED them.  At first they’ll seem kinda dorky, but being able to move at your own pace {i.e. passing all the old people} will come in very handy, as will being able to skip sections.  Being stuck on a guided tour where you have to follow along with the entire group…no thank you!  This gives you freedom and flexibility, and they were insanely useful.  We very much appreciated the convenience.  So shell out the extra money for them, because learning about this stuff is the entire reason  you’re visiting, right?

That covers my general tips for traveling while in Europe!  Stay tuned for our itineraries for each city…months of work went into planning our days in London, Paris, and Rome, and I’m going to pass them onto you!

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