What can I say? Entire books have been written on this topic, and I do not plan to replicate them. However, after twenty two trips to Europe, here are a few of the lessons we have learned from our experiences.
The conversion to the Euro has made life much simpler in much of Europe. However, the notable exceptions are England and Switzerland. Here are some money basics.
1. Use your credit card for most major expenses (hotels, restaurants, car rentals). It will give you the best exchange rate, and provide a good record after you get home.
2. There is little need to get local currency until you arrive in Europe; use the airport ATM to get cash.
3. European ATMs are everywhere and work like your hometown machine. They are your best source for daily cash. Bring two cards and make sure both have four digit PIN codes.
4. Notify your credit card company that you will be traveling in Europe and check the daily limit on your card.
5. Forget Travelers Checks except as emergency backup. I have not used one in years.
Experienced travelers all agree that the most common mistake is overpacking. Pack light and pack smart! Too much luggage signals a typical novice tourist.
6. Your primary bag, with wheels, should not exceed 25 inches. You will check this one.
7. Take a smaller “overnighter” bag to carry-on. This bag should contain everything that you will need to survive for 48 hours if your primary bag does not arrive.
8. If you need to save space, wear/carry your bulkiest items on the plane (blazer, shoes).
9. Pack a canvas tote bag to hold the extra goodies you will buy in Europe. Consider also bringing wash cloths, liquid soap, a raincoat, and a hat for bad hair days.
10. Do not dress to advertise that you are a tourist. Plan your wardrobe around basic color families, and do not be afraid to wear the same outfit three days in a row. Dress in layers.
Here is a Packing Guide of what we would take for a two week trip to Italy in October. Of course, this assumes you will need to wash underwear & socks after one week.
* 2 pairs of slacks, one black, one beige
* 1 long black skirt, 1 cotton jumper
* 3 pairs of shoes, dressy flats, sandals, casual walking shoes
* light rain jacket, suede vest, black cardigan sweater
* 2 silk scarves, one leather belt, one rain hat, silver jewelry
* 5 cotton long sleeve tops, crew or boat neck, in various colors
* 1 cotton nightgown, 4 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of pantyhose
* curling iron, cosmetics, toiletries, medicines, travel alarm
* 3 pairs of slacks; 2 cotton khakis, 1 navy corduroy
* navy blazer and charcoal dress pants, to be worn on the plane
* 6 knit shirts; 4 cotton/silk turtle necks, 2 short sleeved polos
* raincoat, crew-neck sweater, vest sweater, wind breaker
* 2 pair of shoes; leather oxfords, Rockport walking shoes
* 6 pairs of socks, 6 briefs, 2 T-shirts, ski jammies
* 2 caps, toiletries, medicines, Canon SLR camera, 10 rolls of film
Cars and Trains
Rental cars in Italy are expensive because of the high mandatory rates for insurance. However, it is still the best way to see Europe. Rail travel is relatively inexpensive and can be very efficient, especially between the major cities.
11. Avoid driving in the major cities. It is a real hassle and can also be dangerous.
12. When driving on the extensive Autobahn/Autostrada/Autoroute system, be certain to stay in the right lane except when passing and use your blinkers when changing lanes. You will need to pay toll as you exit the system. Look for the VIA lane to pay by credit card.
13. You will need a driver, a navigator, and a good map. The road signage is good, but do not rely on the highway numbers; learn to trust the directional signage.
14. Reservations are a good idea on the rail system, and are mandatory on any of the EuroStar trains. However, do not feel you need to reserve before you arrive in Europe; 24 hours in advance will suffice. We find 2nd class to be adequate.
15. Do not forget to validate your ticket before you board the train.
Frankly, I feel safer in Rome or Madrid than I do in Miami or Chicago. Europe is safe when it comes to violent crime, but Americans do get targeted by pick pockets and purse snatchers. This is especially true in the crowded areas of the larger cities. We have never been victimized during any of our European sojourns. However, we did get a small camera stolen from our luggage in, would you believe, Salt Lake City.
Here are some tips that will hopefully make you less vulnerable:
16. Wear a money belt for those items you cannot afford to have stolen; passports, travel documents, credit cards. Operate with just a few Euro in your pocket at a time.
17. Keep purses/cameras on your person and around your neck; do not lay them down.
18. Stay alert and vigilant! It is when you are distracted that you are vulnerable.
19. Of course, always lock your car and leave nothing in view that you want to keep.
The best tip I can give to any novice traveler to Europe is to smile, be respectful, and never forget that you are a guest in another country.
20. Take the time to learn a 50 word vocabulary to include “please” and “thank you”.
21. Learn to use the 24 hour clock. It may save you making a big mistake in train travel.
22. Here are some travel tools that will likely enhance your experience:
* swiss army knife with corkscrew
* extra camera battery
* copies of travel documents
* adapter plugs for round outlets
Have a great trip!!!