Helpful Hints for Traveling to Europe

Visiting Europe is a dream for many American travelers. Unfortunately, it can be a little daunting when deciding where to go and what to do when you get there.

The first step to take, of course, is to choose a destination or several. Once in Europe, it is easy to see several countries in a fairly short span of time since the train system is excellent. The best way to choose a destination is to decide exactly what you want to see. Do you want a big city with lots of excitement such as Berlin, Germany, or a smaller town with lots of local flavor and small cafes such as Ã?Â?trecht, The Netherlands? Both offer a worthwhile experience, it just depends on what you most enjoy. Take some time to research the countries you might want to visit.

One of the biggest mistakes most travelers make is only going to the more highly traveled western countries like Germany and England. While these countries are certainly worth seeing, many eastern European countries have much to offer, too. Prague, Czech, for instance, is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe with a rich history. Plus, most eastern European countries have cheaper accommodations and food.

You should book your plane ticket way in advance, as well as apply for your passport. If you’re traveling to several countries, you should also look into buying train tickets between countries. EasyJet offers cheap plane tickets between countries (but beware-EasyJet has strict regulations on the amount of luggage you can carry). Trains offer a great way to see the countryside and are easily accessible through public transportation.

You will also want to book your accommodations. For the best experience, try a local hotel, though check reviews if they offer them. Many hotels have websites where you can book accommodations.

If you’re under 26 (and sometimes if you’re older), hostels are a low-cost alternatives to hotels. Many hostels run as little as 15 euros a night (about $20). Though you usually will have to share a room and a bathroom (only a few have private rooms), it is worth it for the experience because you will be able to meet other travelers, many who are from Europe. Also, many hostels have kitchens, so you can save money by buying groceries and cooking. Many places (such as museums and transportation systems) offer youth (under 26) discounts, so keep an eye out.

As your trip approaches, you should start thinking about what you will pack. Take clothes that you can layer, and make sure all of your outfits are interchangeable. Also, try not to wear anything that will identify you as American, as that makes you easily identifiable to pickpocketers. It is a good idea to check the weather forecast in the country for the time you will be there and plan accordingly. Finally, good walking shoes are essential for traveling in Europe as you will be doing a great deal of walking.

Also, research the countries where you are traveling to find out what you might want to do once you get there. Museums, national monuments, and landmarks are all fun things to see. However, don’t plan out every minute of your trip-leave some time to just explore. More than likely, you will find some unexpected jewel that will be the highlight of your trip.

Finally, here are some dos and don’ts for traveling:

DO pack as lightly as possible. You will need much less than you think, and you will regret over-packing because you may have to walk quite a distance with your luggage, through subway systems and on buses. Backpacks and rolling luggage are ideal for traveling because they are easy to manage.

DON’T wait to the last minute to apply for your passport. If you wait too late, the fees to speed up the process can be steep.

DO take time to learn a few phrases in the native language. Even though many Europeans speak two and three languages (and one of them is usually English), most people appreciate the effort and will be more friendly.

DON’T exchange money in the US. Exchange rates are more expensive at airports and banks, and ATMs are relatively easy to find in most countries-where you can take out cash in the currency of the country. Also, most places accept major credit cards.

DO rely on public transportation. Most major European cities have great public transportation that is easier (and safer) than trying to rent a car and cheaper than using cabs. Also, take the time to explore the city on foot-it’s a great way to truly get the feel of a city.

DON’T just visit the most famous landmarks. The true beauty of a country is in it’s culture and people-something you can see by just visiting landmarks

DO find a good map (and know how to read it!). A map can give you the freedom to explore.

DON’T travel in huge groups-at least when exploring the city. Most restaurants cannot accommodate a large group, plus it makes it easier for pickpockets to spot you as tourists.

DO visit local markets. They offer a fun souvenirs and a chance to experience local culture.

DON’T be afraid to talk to local people. While not everyone will be willing to talk to you, many will. You can learn a great deal about local customs and such. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for directions-most people are willing to help.

DO research local taboos and manners if you can. You do not want to offend someone just because you didn’t know a local custom. Many Europeans see Americans as loud and rude. Be considerate of where you are. On the other hand, you will make mistakes, and a good sense of humor will help you through many situations.

While these are just a few tips, they will help make your time in Europe be a truly enjoyable experience. With a little planning, your trip can go smoothly and be the trip of a lifetime.

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