Pre-Trip Planning Tips for Your European Vacation
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Pre-Trip Planning Tips for Your European Vacation




Practical Matters

  • Check your passport’s expiration date early! All European countries require it be valid for at least 3 months beyond your scheduled return to the US, and some countries (like Turkey) require 6 month validity beyond travel dates. Be certain your passport is valid accordingly and renew it early if you must.
  • Rough out a list of things to see and do ahead of your trip. Jot notes, look at maps and rail schedules, and develop a list of ideas. But keep your planning loose enough to accommodate spontaneity and weather.
  • Make your reservations for museums and other sights online ahead of time. It will save you valuable time in line and guarantee you a chance to see what you came to see.
  • Shape up and sharpen your skills before you go.
    • Practice driving a stick shift if you will rent a manual car but haven’t driven one in a while. (Heading to Tuscany? Find some gravel roads to practice on.)
    • Get in shape and walk to build stamina to climb your way through hilltowns and along Alpine hiking trails.
    • Get comfortable with the local conversions. Learn to translate currency. Get your head back into the metric system so you will be comfortable monitoring your speed and able to order sensible portions of cheese at the deli.
  • Get your tech tools ready. Clear memory space on cameras, download apps and ebooks, buy the local maps for your GPS unit, etc. Most importantly, if you have a new device, be certain you know how to use it before you leave home. You don’t want to miss that perfect shot while fumbling with settings on a new camera.
  • Know where you are going. Print driving directions, train schedules, reservations and other practical things, either to paper or to PDF so that you can access them offline.
  • Notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling, and they will note the dates and destinations of your trip so your card will not be blocked. Otherwise, your first purchase abroad may be mistaken for fraud and trigger a freeze on the account. Also, request a chip and pin credit card, as they are the norm in Europe. While most merchants accept cards without this embedded security chip, it is best to have chip and pin when you travel.
  • Check your bank’s fees for foreign currency transactions. Credit unions usually charge a lower percentage of cash withdrawals and credit card purchases.

Cultural Preparation

  • Read about the culture of the place before you go. Not just travel guides, but novels set in the location, history of the region, cultural context about its artists and intellectual history, poets and writers from the culture. Watch movies about the place, shot on site and/or directed by local people.
  • Practice the local language. Even getting comfortable with simple expressions of greeting and gratitude can open doors for you abroad. Learn basic pronunciation and phrases about food, dietary restrictions, restrooms and apologies.
  • Learn about the cuisine of your destination. Cook some dishes at home; if they don’t turn out, you’ll appreciate the real thing on site that much more. Visit ethnic restaurants and learn what to order.
  • Read up on current events before you arrive. The New York Times has great international coverage, and you can sign up for news alerts. Arrive ready to ask about the recent elections or comment on the local soccer team!
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