How to Travel in EuropeBy Christine Bartsch; Updated September 26, 2017
Travel Europe like a savvy international jet-setter
Skiing the Swiss Alps, touring castles in Germany, sunbathing on the French Riviera – Europe is a veritable playground for history buffs and adventure-seekers alike. With limitless attractions and activities across 50 countries to choose from, each excursion offers fresh sights, flavors and cultures to explore. Use these packing, transportation, safety and budget tips to plan the first of many European vacations.
Less is more when traveling internationally
When heading into unknown territory, you may be tempted to pack everything you might want while on the go, rather than bringing only what you really need. Packing light means less to keep track of, less chance of overweight baggage and more room for souvenirs. Limit yourself to a comfortable mix-and-match wardrobe that you can wear in layers and more than once. This goes for tech, too. No need to pack every device when one will suffice. Opt for travel-sized containers that meet the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for carry-on luggage for toiletries, even on longer trips. When supplies run low, venture into markets to mingle with the locals and replenish with European brands you won’t find elsewhere.
Pack that passport and more
It’s common sense that international travelers need a passport when heading to Europe, but that’s not all. While regulations vary for each European nation, visitors who intend to stay longer than 90 days need a visa. This gets tricky when traveling between countries as many have their own regulations. Luckily, the Schengen area includes 22 European countries, which means you’ll only need to obtain one visa to travel between participating nations.
For guests intent on renting a car, a valid U.S. driver’s license may suffice in some countries, while others require an International Driver’s Permit. If your student ID is still valid or you have an International Student Identification Card, bring it along to score discounts at many European cultural attractions.
Navigating on foreign soil
Hopping a plane may be the swiftest way to get to Europe, but what’s the best way to travel within Europe once you land? In some cases, a plane just may be the answer. A number of budget airlines throughout Europe offer low fares, which is ideal as a time-saver and a sometimes money-saver when a train ride to the same destination may take up a full day of your vacation.
Trains offer the opportunity to see the picturesque countryside of the nations you’re passing through and provide downtime to relax between busy days sightseeing at your destination. Eurorail passes are ideal for laid-back travelers looking to avoid living by a travel itinerary. Passes are available for travel between two, three or more pre-selected countries – or opt for a global pass that provides access to 28 countries. For the budget-conscious, overnight train trips pull double-duty by providing a night’s accommodation as you travel between destinations.
Intrepid travelers looking to see beyond the regions reached by mass transit may prefer the freedom of backpacking or renting a car. Backpackers can get the best of both worlds by utilizing buses and trains to carry them long distances, while seeing sights most tourists miss when hiking and camping. Drivers have the same chance to journey to less-traveled regions, and a car rental may be less expensive than rail or air travel, especially for small groups traveling together. Just remember to factor the cost of gasoline into your travel budget.
Tips to stay safe
As J.R.R. Tolkien says, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” The world is a hazardous place that requires caution that’s easy to forget when you’re lost in the engrossing culture of a new place. Before your trip, check with the U.S. State Department to learn the safety and security tips for your specific destinations. U.S. travelers are also advised to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), where you can log your travel plans and receive security updates abroad. It’s also a smart idea to carry the contact information for the U.S. Embassy and local emergency numbers in a cellphone programmed to operate internationally, just in case.
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- Visit Europe: Practical Info
- EU in the US: Traveling in Europe Guide
- US Dept. of State: Europe Travel Alert
- CNN: Spain Attacks—Is Europe Still a Safe Travel Destination?
- The Savvy Backpacker: Cheapest Way to Travel Europe – Comparing Train, Plane and Car Travel
- Trip Savvy: How to Travel Safely in Europe
- US Dept. of State: Learn About Your Destination
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- AAA: International Driver’s Permit
- European Commission: Schengen, Borders & Visas
- International Student Identification Card
- Rick Steves’ Europe: 50 Thrifty Travel Tips
- Eurail: Europe by Train
- European Union Official Website: Travel Documents for non-EU Nationals
- World Atlas: How Many Countries are in Europe?
- TSA: Travel Tips
- USAToday 10Best: How to Pack for International Travel