As many of you know, we specialize in cruises, European River Cruises and European Vacations. Here are my favorite lessons learned, many the hard way in our travels to Europe:
My Top 10 Lessons Learned from 44 Years of Travel in Europe
1. Know exactly what you want to see and how to get there. This may sound silly but many key places you may want to visit are often very hard to visit without several transfers. Let me give you an example. Several years ago, we had a Eurorail pass with limited days. Prior to start of using our 15 days, we had one extra day. We were in France & I wanted to see Mt. St. Michel in Normandy. Without doing my homework, I got us to Le Havre, about 100 miles north of my desired attraction. We never made it to Mt. St. Michel. Turns out it is very difficult to go by train alone to Mt. St. Michel. The point is simple—you must plan your connections & have a clear idea of how to get there.
2. Protect your money—carry a money belt and always zip it shut. Even though we always carry money belts, I forgot to zip mine one night & dropped all my credit cards & IDs along with $230 US dollars in Paris one trip. We realized the mistake after only 30 minutes & after a brief search determined the cards were gone. We called & cancelled the cards within one hour of our loss. We also learned that because Anne had different cards, our trip was not ruined. Report the loss to the police—unbelievably; when we went to the local Paris police station, someone had turned in all my lost items, to include the cash.
3. Change your money before you go. There is always a fee to exchange money. Banks usually offer the best exchange rates. You will not get the prime published exchange rate—that is only for banks or large currency exchanges. Foreign coins cannot be changed in banks or at currency exchanges—they only accept folding money. Try to use them before you leave the country or prepare to keep them as mementos. We carry a minimum of $200.00 US dollars in foreign currency—usually 200-300 Euros or so. Depending upon the trip, we have carried as much as $1000.00. The two best places to get foreign currency—your bank or American Express. Bank is usually cheaper. We usually only carry Euros or Pounds prior to a European trip. We carry $ 200-1000 USD depending on the length of the trip. Of course, if our trip is only to Russia, we get rubles. We always split our cash money—half each and carry it in our money belts. I also use zipper pockets for my wallet, if I’m not carrying a momoney)—ney belt. If you need more money, use an ATM and get a large amount (enough to keep going back for more saves on transaction fees.
4. Pack light—one rolling suitcase and 1 backpack. Anne & I try to take one suitcase and one carry-on each. The size of the suitcase depends on the length of the trip. We think a spinner suitcase is best (4 wheels) so that it will not fall over (I accidently let Anne’s 2 wheel case fall over on one trip & it cracked our net book screen). Most airlines will charge you steep fees for a bag that weights more than 50 pounds. Try to take clothes that match together so you can wear an item at least twice or three times. Wash and wear clothing helps limit the amount clothes you need. Rolling our clothes helps us get more in less space. Laundry services are available in Europe, but we often just do a small in-room wash. We sometimes use packing cubes to help organize our items. Even when I unpack, I just throw the packing cube in the drawer—less to pack later. You may want to take a picture of any high dollar item you are taking or make a detailed packing list with specific description (an example, Blue Microfiber Travel Smith Blazer). We have done both.
5. Never take a night train just to save money. We once took a night train from Paris to Amsterdam with what we thought was a night couchette private compartment. Turns out it was a compartment for 4, and it was so hot in August it took us 2 days to recover. Sometimes spending a little more is worth it, especially as you age. Several years later on an overnight train from Granada to Barcelona, in a proper air conditioned private compartment, it was a great trip.
6. Learn how to use public transportation especially, the subway. Figure out how to get to the attraction that fits your style of travel. Ask at the hotel you are staying for help to get to where you want to go. Taxis are sometime essential & your hotel can often keep you from being ripped off. Our preferred method is to walk, then subway, maybe bus, finally cab or private limo (from Rome to cruise port of Cittivichia for example).
7. Don’t spend $3000 to go on a trip and then balk at an entrance fee of $10-$20 for something you want to see. Know what you want to see and budget for entrance fees. I once missed a beautiful church wood carved altar because I wouldn’t spend $5.00 (OK 5 Euros)—it’s not very cost effective after spending $3000 to get there.
8. Organize your sightseeing in a city by grouping sites that are close together. Grouping will save you hours of time. Plan time to see things in the area, then move to the next area of town—it is just smart travel.
9. Know when key sites are closed. Know what days certain sites are closed—the Louvre is closed on Tuesday and in Florence most key art galleries are closed on Mondays.
10. Carry the right electronics and adapters. Traveling with electronics in Europe is a given in today’s world. Europe uses 240 volts instead of the 110 volts in the US. Bring only electronic devices that are 100-240 volts complaint. You will also need adapter plugs to fit into the outlets. England & Ireland use a different plug than is used on the continent of Europe. Also expect few places in your room to plug in your appliance to recharge during your trip. My experience with converter devices is poor—they often just do not work or destroy your costly electronic device.
We hope you liked this post–it was fun writing it. If you want more info and travel tips, our website has a lot of useful info under the About Tab on www.dreamdestinations.com.
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