If you’re lucky enough to be flying abroad during summer vacay (or are maybe planning for study abroad this fall), let this be your travel guide when trekking through Europe. I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing just this, so I have plenty of tips to share.
Here are my top five tips for visiting Europe, from shopping to packing and everything you need to know in between.
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We know – summer vacation is time for fun, not time for scrimping and saving like you did all semester. But if you’re hitting a few hotspots in Europe this summer, you should keep track of your spending. Before you leave, plan out your money for every day of your trip – for food, gifts, transport, and everything else – and then add an extra 10-15% for emergencies. It might seem like a lot, but you’ll be happy to have the cushion of cash when you need a late night taxi or you decide to splurge a bit on crepes for the group in Paris.
Once you have all your money together, remember a few important notes:
- Keep cash in several places, like in a hotel safe and with you. That way if you’re pick-pocketed, you’ll still have back up. ATMs around Europe are also usable if you find yourself in an emergency cash situation.
- A lot of small markets and cafes don’t accept cards – bring enough cash with you to cover these places.
- Buy gifts and souvenirs sparingly and smartly – cities like Oslo will be very expensive, where stalls in Turkey will have cheaper, more unique gifts.
2. Safety First
It sounds like common sense, but safety is key when traveling through Europe – even if you’re in a group! The most important thing is to be aware of your surroundings, but there are specific things to look out for to make sure you travel back home safe with good memories (and all your belongings!) First and foremost, if you’re of legal age to drink, be cautious and smart. Don’t overdo it, and be vigilant – stay together in a group, get a taxi back to your hotel or hostel, and always buy your own drinks. Stick together and look out for one another – that way, everyone has a good (and safe!) time. Pick-pocketing is very common in Europe.
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To avoid falling victim to scams and stealing, do not give anyone money, keep expensive items out of sight, don’t wear expensive jewelry and never leave your bag unattended. It’s basic advice, but it’s important – and saves you a lot of trouble. Just in case anything does go wrong, make a note of where your country’s embassy is in every city you’re visiting – they’ll help with lost passports and other theft. Also make sure your family back home has copies of your itinerary, credit card numbers, and any other important info in case you need it.
3. Go Local
Famous food items are often cheaper at market stalls than in restaurants, so if you’re craving a bratwurst in Berlin or a curry in London, check out the local areas for food markets. You should also see if there are festivals or local events going on – they’re great places to get cheap meals and cool souvenirs. Also, knowing what to wear is a tough decision, but you can almost never go wrong by wearing smart casual in European cities. Locals can spot a tourist a mile away by their sweatpants and flip-flops – fine for the plane, but not great for the street.
And if you need to accessorize but are avoiding showing off expensive or nice jewelry, stock up on costume rings and necklaces before you go. And finally, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few basic phrases – like please, thank you, hello, and goodbye – when traveling to a new country. Even if your accent is a little off, they’ll appreciate your effort.
4. Pack Smart
If you’re staying in a budget hotel or a hostel, definitely bring travel-sized toiletries with you. A lot of money-saving places don’t offer these in rooms, so make sure you’ve got shampoo, soap, conditioner, and toothpaste at hand. European plug adapters are a must! If you’re traveling through England and continental Europe, make sure it adapts for both – the UK uses a different plug and voltage than the rest of Europe.
Bring along a few other essentials, too: an extra memory card for your camera, a small lock for your backpack, an address list to send postcards back home, a thick sweater or windbreaker, good quality walking shoes, and don’t forget an umbrella! For a seriously in-depth packing checklist, try Rick Steves’ printable list.
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5. Have a Great Time – and See Everything!
Or, all the things you really want to see. Don’t exhaust yourself with trying to pack in every landmark, museum, or activity – just enjoy the ones that excite you the most, and you’ll have a great time. Remember – don’t spend your whole trip behind a camera. Some things are better as memories!