Rick Steves: Preparing for Your European Adventure

 

The author // (c) 2012 www.ricksteves.com

Rick Steves, Blog Gone Europe, April 03, 2012

Going to Europe is exciting, but it can be stressful, too. By arranging a few things while you're still at home, you'll greatly increase your chances of having a smooth, enjoyable European vacation.

Check your passport. Is it due to expire soon? You may be denied entry into certain countries if your passport will expire within three to six months of your ticketed date of return. Get it renewed if you'll be cutting it close.

Stash photocopies of important travel documents. Whether you're at home or abroad, anybody can experience unexpected problems from loss or theft. If you have a copy of a valuable document, it's easier to replace the original. In fact, make two sets of photocopies of your passport and railpass or car-rental voucher. (For debit and credit cards, just record the numbers, rather than photocopy them.) Pack one copy and leave the other with a buddy at home, to be faxed or emailed to you in case of an emergency. I hide my copy in a second money belt clipped into the bottom of my luggage (don't tell anyone).

Contact your debit- and credit-card companies. Prior to your trip, call your bank and credit-card company to let them know which countries you'll be visiting. This will ensure that they don't decline foreign transactions. While you have them on the line, confirm your debit card's daily withdrawal limit, request an increase if you want, and ask about fees for international transactions.

Arrange your transportation. Buy tickets for any flights you might need to take within Europe as early as possible, since the cheapest seats sell out fast. Train travelers should decide whether it makes sense to buy a railpass (these cover trips in one or more countries for a set number of days); if so, you'll need to buy it before you leave the United States. If you plan to take the Eurostar between London and Paris, book tickets far ahead for the best fares.

If you're renting a car, your driver's license is all you need in most places, but some countries, including Austria, Greece, Italy and Spain, also require an International Driving Permit. While that's the letter of the law, I've rented cars in dozens of countries without an IDP - and have never been asked to show one. You can get an IDP at your local AAA office.

Take care of medical business. Visit your doctor to get a checkup, and deal with any dental work that needs to be done. If you use prescription drugs, bring a sufficient supply to cover your trip, along with a copy of your prescription so you can refill it at a European pharmacy if necessary. Call your health insurance provider to see if they cover you internationally or whether you might need to buy special medical insurance.

Look into travel insurance. This can minimize the financial risks of a vacation. Your potential loss varies, depending on factors such as your health, how much of your trip is prepaid, the refundability of your air ticket, and what coverage you already have (through your medical, homeowners', or renters' insurance, and/or credit card).

For me, trip cancellation and interruption insurance is the most usable and worthwhile type. If I think there's a greater than 1-in-20 chance I'll need it (for instance, if I have a loved one in frail health at home), this can be a very good value and provide needed assurance. But if I'm healthy and hell-bent on making a trip, I'll risk it and not spend the extra.

Prepare gadgets for takeoff. If you plan to use your U.S. mobile phone in Europe, consider signing up for an international calling, text, and/or data plan, and confirm voice- and data-roaming fees. If you're bringing a mobile device, download any tools that might come in handy on the road, such as translators, maps, transit schedules, eBooks, Internet calling apps, and free audio tours (including mine, covering some of Europe's top sights and neighborhoods).

Make sleeping, eating, and sightseeing plans. For those who want maximum choice and peace of mind, book accommodations well before your trip, especially if you'll be traveling during peak season, major holidays, or popular festivals. To avoid long lines at major sights, such as the Eiffel Tower and Florence's Uffizi Gallery, make advance reservations online (I'll cover this topic in more depth in a future column).

The best travelers are those who plan ahead. With a little advance legwork, you'll return home with rich stories of spontaneous European adventures.

(Rick Steves ( www.ricksteves.com ) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at [email protected] and follow his blog on Facebook.)

FREE Virtual Event

Pivoting Back to Travel: Phase 4

Are you prepared to guide your clients through the “new normal” of travel? Join us December 15, 2020 from 1pm-2:20pm EST for Pivoting Back to Travel: Phase 4. The upcoming installment of our FREE virtual series will feature presentations from the Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, and Seabourn on their most up-to-date travel procedures, health & safety protocols they’ve implemented to keep guests safe, activities that are open to visitors, what your clients need to know while on their trip and more! Visit www.pivotingbacktotravel to view the full agenda and register for your FREE pass.

Suggested Articles:

The LetsGetChecked program is an at-home COVID-19 test that incorporates a nasal swab and PCR lab analysis. Learn more here.

Two of Yucatán's municipalities, Sisal and Maní, have been awarded the designation “Pueblo Mágico” (Magical Town) by Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism.

Alaska Private Touring’s new virtual hub showcases 100-plus sample itineraries that can be customized by travel advisors. Learn more here.