First Time Travel to Europe: Tips, What to Expect, and Money-Saving Advice

By Michelle Yastremsky


So you’re getting ready to embark on your first ever adventure to Europe – what next?

Before you go, here are a few useful ideas, tips, tricks, and money-saving ideas to help make your trip seamless and stress-free.


Electronics

What to bring & buy.

Why bring the camera if you're going to forget the back-up battery? Rookie mistake.

Converters

You'll need the appropriate converters for your travel to Europe. Most European countries take plugs with two rounded pins, while Great Britain and Ireland take 3 rectangular pins.
Rather than buying an individual converter, consider investing in a world-friendly converter. That way, you can bring it on your future travel to Asia, first trip to Africa, or second vacation in Europe!

Always bring back up

Do you use your phone to navigate, keep in contact, and take photos? You’ll want to bring a backup battery. Even better, bring a portable battery charger and appropriate cables for all your electronics; just make sure it’s charged before embarking on the town!


Internet

Stay connected, no matter the distance.

Do you rely on WiFi for your stress-free travel? You'll want to be aware of where to find available internet or hotpots in your area.

Buy a local SIM Card

Contact your service provider ahead of time to see if your phone is eligible to be unlocked. Once unlocked, you are free to buy international SIM cards (just make sure you purchase one with included data), and use as needed.

Or, purchase an international plan

This is an easier, but frequently more expensive option, and can be set-up before or during your trip.

You can even rent a router

One of the simplest options for having internet access when you need is to rent a portable router!

Where to find free WiFi

Airports and international chains such as Starbucks may have open public WiFi available, free of charge. Your cell-phone provider may also have international hotspots available for you to use, contact them ahead of time to find out more information. If you’re embarking on a road trip through Europe, you may be able to purchase WiFi for your car.


Currency & Credit Cards

It Pays to Do Research

Get more for your dollar, avoid paying unnecessary fees, and take advantage of unexpected perks with these tips.

Where to get the best exchange rate

The best way to get the best exchange is to know the current exchange rate. Generally, ATMs using your bank card will give you the best exchange rate. However, keep in mind that both international ATMs and your home bank may charge you a fee, so better to limit the number of transactions.

Credit Cards

Using a credit card abroad? Here a few things to keep in mind:
Many European credit card readers require a pin number, call your credit card company ahead of time to set one up. Avoid card issues; let your credit card company and bank know your travel plans ahead of time. Inquire about international fees or travel perks (you may even luck out with perks like free lunch in the VIP airport lounge - check ahead of time!)


Accommodations

Home sweet home!

Luxury is in the eye of the beholder.

Reception hours

Inquire about the reception hours at your accommodation, especially if your flight arrives in the middle of the night. Some hotels will only allow check-in until a certain time of day, but may be willing to make exceptions as long as you let them know ahead of time.

Presenting Proper Documentation

Most accommodations in Europe will ask to see your Passport. Some may even ask to hold on to it, so you may want to bring a photocopy of it with you just in case.

Room Expectations

Standard room sizes may be cozier than what you are used to at home, and beds may be much closer together - this is all part of the authentic experience!

Transportation & Travel

Take the guesswork out of getting around!

Getting lost can be part of the fun, if you have an easy way out!

Using Public Transportation

Many countries in Europe have a public transportation system that operates on the honor system. They trust you to buy a ticket, and will have officers double checking once-in-a-while.
When appropriate, always validate your ticket. Ask a ticketing officer if you are unsure. Note what "regions" your ticket is appropriate for; some tickets are only valid for certain zones, while more expensive options are more inclusive.

Download Offline Maps

While connected to WiFi, use Google Maps to make your directions available offline.
You can also download offline map applications such as CityMaps2Go, which gives you one free map download per account. This uses GPS rather than data so you can track your location without being connected to the internet.

Save Your Hotel Address

Grab a business card, take a photo of the address, or write it down somewhere - in case you get truly lost, you can hop in a cab and just give them the address - back to square one!

Eating & Drinking

When in Europe, drink sparkling water!

Add some sparkle to that ice water.
Since sparkling water is preferred to regular in some European countries, you may have to clarify that you want non-sparkling to the fizzy stuff.

Bread is not always kneaded

...but it very well may be one of the best parts of your trip to Europe! Many restaurants will provide you with sparkling water or a basket of bread without you having to order it - that does not mean it is included. Better to double check before slathering a layer of that local butter on the freshly-baked loaf.

Dreamy views are worth the price

Be aware that some restaurants and bars may charge extra for sitting outside versus inside. Choose wisely, but also remember you're on vacation - enjoy that slice of pizza while the locals fill the streets.

Why take-out when you can eat-in

From tipping to take-out charges, avoid surprises on your trip.
Some restaurants may also add on a fee for take-out, or for wrapping your leftovers, so double check before asking for that half-eaten sandwich to be taken "to-go."

To tip or not to tip

Tipping in most European countries is not expected, but certainly still appreciated. While tipping, a general approach is to round the bill up to a convenient number ($22 becomes $25.00), and leave that amount.

Money-Saving Tips

Save more here, spend more on souvenirs there.

Do treat yourself to an expensive dinner

Don't spend more where you don't need to. These money-saving travel tips aren't just great for travel to Europe - use them anywhere in the world!

Don't forget those student IDs

If you still have a valid college ID, bring it! Many cultural institutions offer discounted entry for those with a valid student ID, so better bring it just in case.

City Passes = ultimate savings

City passes offer discounted entry to some of the city's main highlights, and can sometimes even come with discounted rail and subway passes. Head to your city's information center or tourist office to inquire about the different ones available at your destination.

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