Can I just say that everyone, and I do mean everyone, should visit Europe at least once in their lifetime? Between the history (remember how the good ‘ol USA is only a couple hundred years old? Yeah, that’s really not old at all.), the culture, the food, the shopping (ahem), you will gain so much from your time abroad. I love that saying, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” It’s so true! So save up that money (it’s probably less expensive than you think!), apply for a passport, and get packing! A few tips to get you started:
1. Give yourself plenty of time: After spending a semester in Europe during college I was sure I’d never be able to go back and enjoy myself unless I could stay another three and a half months. Turns out that’s not really feasible as an adult with responsibilities! Lame, right? Fortunately I was wrong in my thinking! I didn’t need 15 weeks, but I certainly needed more than three or four days! If you’re planning a big “European vacation”, give yourself at least a week (though more time is optimal!). Don’t forget that you’ll lose some sightseeing time due to traveling and readjusting your sleep schedule. Don’t make it too hard on yourself by not allowing enough time! Plus, your airfare is probably the bulk of your travel expense so why not spread your time out a bit!
2. Don’t limit yourself, but don’t overdo it either! One of the most amazing things about traveling Europe is how easy it is to get somewhere! London to Paris? Just an easy two hour train ride! And night trains are awesome – go to sleep in one country, wake up in another! Can we take a moment to grasp how phenomenal this is? Keep in mind that even though the possibilities seem endless, you don’t want to run yourself ragged by running all over the continent just to spend a few hours in a place before you’ve got to catch a train. Give yourself plenty of time to actually enjoy what you’re seeing!
3. Get some help: I cannot stress how much having a travel agent involved helped me when I planned the trip. I figured out my dates, where I wanted to go and gave her a tentative schedule along with some criteria – moderately priced hotel rooms with easy access to sites or transportation, specific tours/tickets I wanted to book ahead of time, etc. She was AMAZING and took so much pressure off of me!
4. Expect different, but good: When I went to Europe the first time at 19, I heard the wise words that things will be different, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s so true! Guess what? Not everyone is like you. The values you hold and the ideas you have about the world might be a little different than someone else in another part of the world. And that’s OK! Part of the fun of traveling is observing and learning from other people! It’s quite humbling to get outside your “area” and realize just how tiny your world really is!
5. Be nice: I can’t tell you how many people warned me before both of my trips to Europe how rude Europeans were. (Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure none of those people had ever left the state, let alone the country!) I remember being so excited for my first trip to Paris and hearing how arrogant Parisians were and how awful traveling would be. (Uh, news flash, there are rude people all over the world. In fact, I know quite a few that live rather close to me.) I never experienced anything but kindness by all who I interacted with when I traveled. Whether a taxi driver in Rome giving us restaurant recommendations after he picked us from the airport, or a woman in Paris helping us find a cab after midnight when the metro had shut down for the evening and she literally walked us at least a mile to make sure we got where we were going, people are kind all over the world. Just give them a chance! And BE NICE BACK. Don’t contribute to giving us a bad reputation! (Oh, and don’t be irritated when people don’t speak English, (though a lot of them do!) remember, you’re the one out of place here!)
6. Relax and enjoy!: I know you want to hit every item on your list of things to see, but don’t forget to relax a bit and just enjoy yourself. One of my favorite memories of my last trip was sitting at a table in front of a Parisian cafe with my husband for a couple of hours just watching people and enjoying coffee (him), hot chocolate (me), and chocolate mousse (also me). We may not have hit every tourist-y spot there was, but we really enjoyed ourselves. So much so, that we can’t wait to go back!
7. Take the plunge: You want to go, but maybe something’s holding you back. A fear of the unknown? It just seems too big and too impossible? There’s no way you could ever afford it? Let’s get real here for a minute. Life is short. Don’t spend your time daydreaming when you could actually be living, you know? Traveling to Europe is something you can actually do. So do it!
Planning a trip abroad? Share your tips for planning the best trip to Europe!
Originally posted December 12, 2014