How To Plan A Trip To Europe? Our Ultimate European Exploration Guide

a beautiful scenic view of Stockholm in Sweden

Panorama of Stockholm, Sweden By Mikael Damkier

Learn How to Successfully Plan Your European Vacation with 10 Simple Tips

Who doesn’t love traveling? Being able to explore the globe, taste delicious foods you cannot get at home, and learn about a culture far different from your own is often the highlight of someone’s year.

Europe is a popular destination for people of all ages as it has a lot of unique landmarks, museums, and shops. But how do you even begin to start planning a trip there?

We love to go sightseeing and head out on new adventures, but planning it all out can be overwhelming. Especially to a place outside of your original country. Which is why getting some helpful advice can both soothe our worries, and make everything fall into place quicker and simpler.

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You better grab your passport and prepare for tea time, because we’re getting you ready for a European trip of a lifetime with 10 simple tips.

Where To?

friends planning trip by searching locations using a mobile phone

Image by By Antonioguillem

Before you can plan anything, you’ve got to decide where you want to travel to. Which, of course, is one of the most difficult parts.

There are over 50 European countries, all with their own unique pieces of culture, scenery, and history to offer. 

There are some big names on the map, like France, Germany, and England, but what about some of the other countries?

The great thing is that a lot of these countries are located very close to one another, requiring only a few hours travel time to get from one country to the next. Consider spending time in more than one place while you adventure. You’ll be glad you did.

France

France has a ton of gorgeous monuments, museums, and churches to explore. They have some exquisite cuisine, have some terrific shopping sites, and serve as the perfect romantic getaway.

a magnificent structure of French cathedral in France

French cathedral, Image by Tama66 on Pixabay

the most popular travel destination at London Bridge in England

London Tower Bridge, Image by PIRO4D on Pixabay

The United Kingdom

London, England is by far one of the most popular European travel destinations. With its world-famous museums, clock tower, and theatre scene, this is an exciting place for people of all ages and interests. Plus, they serve incredible fish and chips.

Italy

Italy is bursting at the seams with popular tourist attractions. With a number of famous cities, like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, you can experience a taste of Italian culture in all sorts of different atmospheres. The food is divine, the sites are breathtaking, and the cost for lodging is often quite reasonable.

experience a taste of Italian culture at Cinque Terre villages Monterosso Italy

Cinque Terre villages, Monterosso, Italy, Image by Sylabo on Pixabay

unbelievable sculpted architecture of Barcelona Spain

Sculpted architecture of Barcelona, Image by unknown on Pixabay

Spain

Who doesn’t want to visit a beauty like Barcelona? Spain offers an incredible beachfront along with unbelievable architecture. The local food is delicious and absolutely worth checking out.

Greece

If you’re looking for some island action, you have to take a trip to Greece. This historical country not only offers some of the best island beaches around, but they also have a ton of archaeological and historical attractions, including the famous city of Athens.

one of the archaeological and historical attractions at Stone Arch Bridge, Nature Park Villa Aoos, Greece

Stone Arch Bridge, Nature Park Villa Aoos in Greece, Image by shogun on Pixabay

the best hiking trail at the Swiss Alps

Swiss Alps, Image by JimboChan on Pixabay

Switzerland

For those ready for a good climb, consider taking a long hike through the Swiss Alps. The views you will get from atop these mountains will take your breath away, making your regular life feel dull in comparison.

Germany

Grab a pint of beer and get ready for an exciting trip to Germany. This country has a ton of beautiful landmarks and historical sites that will keep you feeling humbled and amazed.

a beautiful landmark and historical site at Germany town in Germany

Small German town, Image by mschiffm on Pixabay

the magical and mythical great site at Blarney Castle, Ireland,

Blarney Castle, Ireland, Image by PerWaernborg on Pixabay

Ireland

You must be pretty lucky if you’re heading off to Ireland! This seemingly magical and mythical country offers a ton of great sites and great drinks. Travel through the Guinness Storehouse, explore an ancient castle, and kiss the Blarney stone all in a single trip.

Sweden

If you’re willing to head a bit more north, it is definitely worth checking out Sweden. This country has some incredible museums, palaces, and historical cities to explore. They also have a great number of forests and mountains that are fun to travel through.

an incredible museum at Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden, Image by JarkkoManty on Pixabay

the Polish Underground Amusement Park at Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland

Wieliczka Salt Mine Is an Incredible Polish Underground Amusement Park, Image By Kanuman

Poland

Poland has some of the most beautiful underground chapels to date. Their streets and cities are gorgeous, and you can even arrange to check out a royal castle if you’re feeling adventurous.

Croatia

Although it may not be the first European country you think of when referring to Europe, but it is by far one of the best places to see breathtaking ocean views. This country is full of lively cities and unbelievable landscapes just waiting to be discovered.

a view of the series of 16 lakes joined by waterfalls that leads to a limestone canyon at croatia

Plitvice National Park, Croatia- known for a series of 16 lakes joined by waterfalls that lead to a limestone canyon. Image by tangentbeta on Pixabay

the famous Fisherman's Bastion at Budapest Hungary

Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary. -Image by Giraffew on Pixabay

Hungary

Whether you’re hungry or not, Hungary is a great place to spend some time abroad. Visit the famous Budapest, or one of their other major cities, and experience a trendy, exciting time both day and night. Soak in the beauty, and spend some time here with your family, partner, or closest friends.

The Netherlands

If you’re looking for a romantic getaway for two, give the Netherlands a try. Popular cities like Amsterdam have lured tourists in for decades thanks to their romantic channels. They also host one of the best gay-pride festivals in Europe, proving that love truly is love, no matter who you’re with.

a romantic getaway at the romantic channels of Canal waterway in Amsterdam

Canal waterway in Amsterdam, Image by djedj on Pixabay

10 Lifesaving Tips to Make Your European Adventure a Success

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We know planning a trip can be hard, but you should be able to have fun the whole way through, not be so stressed out you can’t even enjoy the trip when you get there.

By making a few simple adjustments to your planning strategy, you can make your European adventure a true success.

At the end of the day, remember that you are doing this to give yourself a break, see someplace exciting, and spend time with the people who matter most in your life. So have fun, don’t stress, and before you know it, you’ll be breathing in that beautiful European air.

A Day? A Week? A Month?

A lot of the determining factors for how long you can spend abroad has to do with your day to day life. How long can you get off work? How much can you afford? Where exactly do you want to go and what do you want to do there?

To thoroughly explore a country, or dip your toes into a couple countries close by, we suggest about a two week trip to Europe.

time is a determining factor of how long you can spend your vacations abroad

Image by WorldSpectrum on Pixabay

One week often leaves people feeling rushed and unable to see everything, while the additional week gives you time to become accustomed to European culture.

If you’re looking to travel all over Europe and explore as many countries as possible, and have the luxury of time and money on your hands, you’re going to want about three months. Any longer than that and you will have to get a Visa.

Serious Seasonal Situations

there are Crowds of people that travel during peak seasons

Image by B_Me on Pixabay

If you have to ability to travel whenever you want, you may want to consider picking out an optimal time that will allow you to experience everything you want to see, without dealing with the huge crowds.

Summertime, from June to August, will be the most popular tourist times. The countries will be warmer, there will be a number of festivals and activities going on, and it will be easier to explore. However, you may also run into a lot of people at this time, making it difficult to get into certain places.

The colder months are often far cheaper and less crowded, but there may not be as many activities going on for you to see. This does not mean that there won’t be things for you to do, but you may be limited to the types of things you can do.

Our best suggestion for you is to travel during what is referred to as “shoulder season”. This is the time between the offseason and the peak season. This ranges between April and mid June along with September and October. Here, you’ll get to experience many of the benefits of the peak season without the long lines or huge crowds.

Apps, Maps, and Filling in the Gaps

Can’t figure something out? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that!

Technology has allowed us to travel smarter, experience more, and navigate our way around foreign lands easier than ever before. 

use mobile apps and take down notes on how to plan a trip to europe

mobile apps, Image by FirmBee on Pixabay

You’re going to need a great set of apps at your disposal if you want to get the most out of your European experience.

Apps like Spotted by Locals, Smart Traveler, and Pretty Streets can help you see and experience the best parts of the city safely. Learn where the best places are, who to contact if something seems wrong, and find the perfect snapshot of the city with a tap of your finger.

Others, like GoEuro, Google Maps, and Uber will help you actually get around the areas you’re trying to see. They’ll not only tell you how to get there but be able to give you alternate roots and transportation methods if needed. Plus, Uber can come to pick you up in a ton of European cities.

Finally, if you’re traveling to a country that doesn’t speak your language, you need to download Google Translate. This app can not only translate the text you type in, both online and offline, but it can translate audio recordings and foreign signs or images. It is easy, free, and incredibly helpful.

Well, You’ve Got to Sleep Somewhere

After a long day of adventuring and traveling, you’re going to need to stay somewhere. There are so many different options for lodging, making it hard to determine which is really the best.

The price of your stay will largely depend on when and where you want to stay. Larger cities will always cost more than something a bit out of the way. 

help yourself with a cup of tea after a long day of adventuring and traveling

Image by lisa870 on Pixabay

Summer months are also quite popular, often making it more expensive.

You can choose from things like hostels, which are often the most affordable, Airbnbs, and hotels. Hotels are usually your safest bet as you know what you’ll be getting and will have people there to assist you, but an Airbnb can also offer a lot of flexibility and comfort.

Choose what looks the most comfortable for you. You’re going to want a relaxing environment where you can rest after a long day of adventuring, so select the place that seems to best align with your idea of comfort.

Do You Have Your Passport?

a passport is needed to legally travel to another country

Image by jackmac34 on Pixabay

Passport, please! To travel to Europe, you’re going to need a passport to get through the airport and legally travel to a country other than your own.

For some, the idea of getting a passport can seem very complicated and difficult, but in actuality, most of the work is done without you having to lift a finger.

 But don’t worry, we’ll walk you through the whole process and get you on that flight in no time!

For those who are getting their very first passport, or who are filling out forms for children, you’re going to need to go in and fill out a DS-11 form in person. There are locations all across the nation, making it easy to find a location near you.

a tourist handing over her passport in the airport

Excited young woman handing over passport in airport. Image By Yakobchuk Olena

Fill out the form and bring it up to the clerk. They will then ask for you to provide some supporting documents to prove you are who you say you are, that you are a United States citizen, and that you are related to the child you say you are related to.

The specific documents you need will depend on whether you’re getting a new passport or simply renewing an old one. Either way, great documents to prove your identity and citizenship are your driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, and state-issued ID card.

a passport photo validates the information on your passport

 posing for passport -Image By photology1971

Say cheese! It’s time to get your passport photo taken. You can get this done at a number of places, but make sure it fulfils the requirements in terms of size, style, and format.

Now comes the part that nobody like. It’s time to hand over some cash to pay for your fees. A standard passport book will cost you about $110, plus a $35 acceptance fee if it is your first time.

After turning all that into the clerk, or mailing in the appropriate information, the rest is off your back. Simply wait four to eight weeks and you’ll have your passport in hand!

Squish It In!

Overpacking is probably the most common traveling mistake many tourists make. It can feel impossible to decide what you’ll feel like wearing, what the weather will be like, and what will look good abroad. However, we can guarantee you do not need 16 shirts for a one week trip.

The video above can help you efficiently pack the items you have chosen to take with you, but we’re going to tell you just what to bring with you on your European adventure.

Firstly, you probably don’t need half the items you’re trying to bring. Lay out all the things you think you need and then cut that back by at least 20%. While having options is nice, being able to have room to bring back souvenirs is even better.

Consider what type of trip you are going on. Are you planning to adventure outside, do some hiking, or check out the nearby wildlife? Be sure to have comfortable shoes and a backpack for supplies.

Travle light with comfortable footwear and handy baggages

Travel light with comfortable shoes. Image by katyveldhorst on Pixabay 

If you’re looking to stay closer to town and visit museums, shops, and landmarks, still keep a comfortable pair of shoes with you, but you probably can put those binoculars away.

European weather is often quite chilly and unpredictable, especially if you are traveling outside of the brief summer months. Pack to keep yourself warm and comfortable, rather than lavish and cold.

Don’t forget your small add ons, like a USB travel adaptor, plug adaptors, and chargers. Keep your electronic devices happy so you can capture the entirety of your European escapade.

Bringing Dollars and Getting Pounds

Bank money exchange is needed for your daily expenses on your travel

Man receiving money from teller. Image By New Africa

In the end, it all comes down to dollars and cents, doesn’t it? Except in this instance, you’re more likely looking at pounds and euros.

Different European countries have different home currencies that you will have to look into before traveling abroad. But there are a few important things to consider before you go handing over your dollars.

No matter where you go, there will be some type of currency exchange fee. The only thing you can do is to avoid paying more than you need to. Places like airports or train stations often charge far more than if you head into your local bank before you leave.

You can also access an ATM in the country you’ve traveled to and take out money that way. If you can find an in-network ATM, you should hardly pay a fee at all. If you can’t, try to take out larger sums of money all at once, rather than small spurts of money multiple times, to avoid ATM fees.

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Plastic is also accepted at many shops and retailers in European countries. Depending on where you go, you may not have to have access to cash 24/7.

So let’s talk numbers for a minute. How much money will you actually need to take along with you?

Provided you have already paid for your rental car, flight, and lodging, you’re probably going to want about $100 per person per day you’re visiting. 

This should be able to cover the cost of entrance fees, trains or ferries, food, and small souvenirs. If you know that there are some large ticket items you want to buy or an expensive restaurant you want to visit, consider upping that budget.

This is your vacation and your time to enjoy yourself. Give yourself a little extra to play with in case you come across something extra special.

Planes, Trains, and Rental Cars

When you want to travel, one of the hardest components to figure out is just how you’re going to get there. You want to make sure things are time efficient, but certain modes of transportation can be unbelievably expensive.

The first thing you’ll need is a flight to your European destination. Flights can cost a ton of money, especially when you go overseas.

plane soaring through the sky is the fastest way to get to your travel destination

Image via giphy.com

Choosing to go during a less popular time can often save you quite a bit of cash. This includes both popular travel times and popular flight times. You can often get cheaper flights if you choose to fly out during the week rather than on the weekend. Wednesdays are often the cheapest days to fly out, saving you almost $100 in some cases.

You’ll also want to book it sooner rather than later. We recommend somewhere between three weeks and three months in advance. If you’re able to really plan ahead, sometimes you can snag an even better deal if you book six months ahead, depending on the airline.

car rental is a great way to transport you from place to place

car rental, Image by JensPeter on Pixabay

Getting a rental car is a great way to transport you and your family from place to place. It’s quick, always there when you need it, and will only cost a single fee rather than multiple fees every time you want to travel.

You’ll also want to book it sooner rather than later. We recommend somewhere between three weeks and three months in advance. If you’re able to really plan ahead, sometimes you can snag an even better deal if you book six months ahead, depending on the airline.

While your American driver’s license is all you need to drive in most of Western Europe, certain countries may require you to obtain an international permit before renting. This is a quick fix and can easily be obtained at a AAA center for about $15-$20.

You’ll also need to consider the rules and regulations of the country you will be traveling in. In America, we drive on the right, but in Europe, they drive on the left. Their systems, mileage, and rules may require some studying before you make your decision.

But, if you can overcome all that, you can quickly get to any of your destinations any time of the day. Plus, who doesn’t love a good old-fashion road trip?

Oopsie! Can I Fix That?

So you made an oopsie. That’s okay! Don’t sweat it. Most times, minor planning and traveling mistakes can easily be resolved with a simple phone call or email.

Take your time, double check your information, and anything that is done improperly or poorly should easily stand out. Don’t panic, because a lot of the time, as long as you catch it before you leave, the issues can be resolved.

mistakes happen when traveling like spilling your milk accidentally

Image via giphy.com

But the best plan is to avoid potential mistakes before they happen. 

Here are a few tips to avoid making the most common planning mistakes:

  • Plan your currency exchange smartly; avoid exchanging at the airport
  • Forget the traveler’s check; they may be difficult to exchange nowadays
  • Don’t forget travel insurance
  • Call your bank to inform them you will be traveling
  • Save more money rather than less
  • Book your lodging sooner rather than later
  • Avoid relying on taxis as your sole mode of transportation
  • Pack less rather than more
  • Check with your cell phone company about international data
  • Give yourself plenty of time between flights
  • Avoid overbooking your itinerary

When to Do What

mark the dates on your calendar when booking a travel

Image via giphy.com

So now you’ve got all the right tips, but how do you know when to do them? Making sure you provide enough time for all the details to fall into place is essential to your overall success while traveling.

The last thing you want to do is feel overwhelmed and unable to book all the things you want to see and do because you waited too long. It is almost always better to prepare as far in advance as possible, but here are a few rough guidelines to follow as a bare minimum.

Six Months Prior

First and foremost, you have to pick out where you’re going to go. We know choosing a destination can be hard, but if you don’t start to plan now, you won’t be able to go anywhere.

Decide which sites you really want to see and determine which cities will allow you to see the most. Also consider things like cost, business, and accessibility.

time flies too fast like a calendar flipping through the months

Image via giphy.com

You’ll also want to look at where you’ll be staying. Whether you’re choosing to stay at a hostel, an Airbnb, or just a regular hotel, book your stay sooner rather than later. Especially if you are planning to go during a busy time.

If the place you’ve chosen speaks a language other than your own, you may want to start learning a few simple phrases. Things like “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” “Where is the…” and “I would like…” are helpful to know when traveling.

Three Months Prior

book a flight as early as possible to avoid complications

Image by JESHOOTS-com on Pixabay

If you need to renew your passport or get one to begin with, it’s sort of now or never. Depending on how busy they are, it can take up to two months for your passport to come in. Be sure to plan accordingly so you’re not scrambling around without a passport the week before you leave.

Time to book that flight! Check through a bunch of airlines and follow our tips to find the most affordable flight possible. This is also a good time to start creating your itinerary and figuring out how much you can do in the time you’ll be spending abroad.

Two Months Prior

If you haven’t already, now is the time to make sure your hotel reservations are made and any reservations for activities, events, or shows have been purchased. Planning ahead is the only sure way to make sure you can do all the things you want to do.

room reservations are now made easy via online services

Man booking a room on laptop. Image By georgejmclittle

You’ll also want to consider how you’re going to get around. Unless you have friends in the country you’re traveling to, chances are you won’t have access to a car without a rental company.

Trains and buses are great to get around but often require passes to use. Make sure you understand their systems before you get there.

One Month Prior

use your money wisely when traveling

Image via gfycat.com

It’s the final countdown, friends. Time to start putting those final pieces together.

If you’re planning to invest in travel insurance, now is the time to set that up. This isn’t required, but if you know you will be spending a lot of money, you may want to protect your trinkets with some insurance.

Speaking of money, it’s important to see how much money you’ve got saved up for this trip. Make sure you have enough in place to go to all the places you want, have money to eat and travel around, and have something to spend on souvenirs.

Right Before You Leave

In the final stretch of time before your big trip, make sure you’ve got everything in place. Know exactly what you’re going to pack, have all your documents in place, and have made arrangements for your home while you are away.

It’s often wise to double check everything before you go. 

double check everything as you pack up your things

Image via tenor.com

Even though you know you bought your plane ticket for a Thursday morning, double check you remembered the right time so everything goes to plan and you can enjoy your trip.

Make a List and Check It Twice

Remaining organized is essential to good planning. Lists can help you keep track of everything you’ve done, everything you still need to do, and remind you of things you may otherwise forget.

As a bonus tip, we’ve started a European traveler’s checklist for you. Feel free to add and edit whatever you need, but be sure to check off all listed items before you leave.

The Ultimate European Traveler’s Checklist

  • Check your passport; do you have it and has it expired?
  • Confirm your flight information
  • Confirm your hotel reservations
  • Make reservations for attractions you want to see
  • Do you need or want travel insurance?
  • Call your bank; tell them you will be out of the country for x amount of days
  • Create backup documents
  • Confirm transportation information (trains, rental cars, etc.)
  • Buy a guidebook for the country you’re traveling to
  • Give yourself plenty of time between flights
  • Ask your phone company about their international texting, calling, and data
  • Download travel and translation apps
  • Double check you have all medical needs taken care of (shots, prescriptions, etc.)
  • Create your own travel first aid kit
  • Ask someone to watch over your house, take care of your pets, and grab your mail
  • Give a family member your itinerary and contact information
  • Review the carry-on restriction item list
  • Pack your suitcase, be sure everything is inside it, and check its weight

Run That By Me One More Time

Woo! You made it through all our tips. While we did our best to make everything quick and easy to comprehend, we know it can be easy to forget some little details here and there.

Check out this great YouTube video for a recap of many of the points we made here today, along with a few additional points you may want to consider before heading off to Europe.

Have a Safe Flight!

be safe on all of your travels

Image via tenor.com

Bon voyage! After all that planning, packing, and preparing, you’re now finally ready to head out on your European adventure.

Be sure to double check you have all your important documents and information before you leave, but once you’re there, enjoy yourself.

Don’t stress if things don’t go perfectly to plan. Instead, cherish the moment. Take in the sights around you, venture to a cafe out of the way for lunch, and try to capture the beauty of the country you are in.

Utilize our tips to make your traveling experience easier, and then soak up everything your journey has to offer. Vacations do not last forever, but their memories can.

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