Every year millions of Americans travel to Europe, many of them fulfilling a long-held dream. If you’re wondering how to plan a trip to Europe, the following insights can help you save money, stay safer, and ultimately make the most of your European travel adventure.
In COVID-19 times, your focus may not be on how to plan a trip to Europe. But you can still begin planning for some day. In fact, you’ll be giving yourself a mental health boost by setting a goal and working toward your eventual European vacation. These insights can help you save money, stay safer, and ultimately make the most of your trip.
The best way to start planning a trip to Europe is to establish your goal. And that means deciding where to go.
Europe is massive, with a staggering diversity of options. But you shouldn’t be overwhelmed. Take the initiative, think carefully about destinations you may like – and research the possibilities.
Here are two approaches to get you started:
Which appeals to you?
Once you decide on the places you want to visit, you’ve given yourself a huge psychological advantage. You now have a clear objective, one that you can begin to visualize and start making specific plans for. Your destination choices will drive all subsequent trip elements like:
• Your budget
• Your trip schedule
• Your transportation plans
• Your daily itinerary
A good rule of thumb for planning a trip to Europe is to take at least six months. And if you really want to benefit from early preparation, a year may be even better. That ample time can play a pivotal role in helping you:
Create the trip of a lifetime. Choosing where to go (addressed more above) is the most important decision. Starting your planning early gives you more time to dive deep into the possibilities and – even better – make crucial discoveries.
For example, your research might lead you to taking an off-season trip to a less popular region of Europe where crowds are non-existent and the attractions are for the locals.
Intimate European travel experiences like that can be life-changing. But they can also be hard to come by if you rush your trip planning.
Have more control over dates, locations, and fees. By planning ahead, you’re giving yourself more options for critical parts of your trip like flights and accommodations. That can be especially important if you have your sights set on popular destinations, especially during summer.
Wait too long to figure out your itinerary and you could be making desperate – and often expensive – last-minute decisions. (See specific tips below on purchasing plane tickets.)
Plan a safer, healthier, and more secure trip. Even though Europe is generally considered a safe place to travel, you’ll still want extra time to research the safety and security aspects of traveling abroad.
For example, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection has compiled a list of the safest places to travel. We use traveler surveys as well as valuable safety information from the following resources, which are also available to you:
• The Global Peace Index, published annually by Vision of Humanity
• The State Department’s numerical safety rating
• The UL Global Safety Index, which measures things like road safety, and deaths and injuries from accidents
• The Global Finance Index of destination safety
And with more time to plan, you’ll be able to check off the numerous things you should do before making such a major trip, like:
If your sights are set on a European vacation, you’re going to need a passport. Most likely, you and the others you’re traveling with will meet one of these descriptions:
1. You have a valid passport. Great. You’re good to go ... maybe. Make absolutely sure to check when it expires. You obviously want it to still be valid over the duration of your time abroad. Simple, right? Not exactly.
Make certain that the six-month passport validity rule won’t jam up your trip. Some countries require your passport to be valid for a certain period of time (often six months) beyond your return date. For example, Austria enforces this rule.
To be sure your passport will be fine, find out the rules for the countries you plan to visit. The U.S. State Department can help.
2. You need to renew your passport. Don’t put this off. Get it renewed ASAP so you have it out of the way. Start with the State Department.
3. You need a first-time passport. It’s best to assume it’s going to take longer than a month or two to get a new passport. The last thing you want is to be wondering, “When is it coming?” as your departure date nears.
Again, start with the State Department. Also, know that you’ll be required to show an official birth certificate in its physical form or some other form of citizenship evidence, in addition to an acceptable identification document, such as a valid driver’s license.
Don’t forget about the U.S. Postal Service. Thousands of Post Offices throughout the country handle a variety of passport-related services. Check out USPS.com for more info.
Tourist visas and travel authorization. U.S. citizens typically don’t need a visa if they’re visiting Europe for under 90 days. However, if you’ll be making excursions to, say, Turkey or Russia, then the situation changes. If you’re wondering about visa requirements, you can look up countries with the State Department.
Note that beginning in 2022, U.S. citizens and travelers from other visa-exempt countries will need to complete an online pre-travel authorization application and pay a minimal service fee to visit the Schengen Area, which comprises most of Europe.
See the European Travel Information and Authorization System for more information.
Driver’s license. Rental car companies in Europe will expect to see a valid U.S. driver’s license. Some even require an international driver’s permit. (You can apply for one through the American Auto Association.) You may also want to look at the State Department’s Driving and Road Safety Abroad.
Prescriptions, document copies, other important information. To be extra-thorough, here’s a list of other documents to bring, adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Pack Smart list:
How much are you willing to spend on your trip? Places in Europe will vary widely in terms of how expensive they are to visit. Yes, you can research which destinations are considered the “cheapest” places to go and plan your trip accordingly.
But if you’re on a tight budget, you can also take cost-saving steps that can help no matter where you’d like to go:
Plane fare will likely take the biggest bite from your budget. That also makes it the number one place to search for cost-cutting possibilities:
Taking taxis or Ubering can be super-convenient – but also expensive, especially for singles and couples. Look for alternatives like the local bus systems and subways. Many European cities have some of the best public transportation systems in the world.
Also, if you have the time, walking through European cities can be an amazing experience in and of itself.
Although flying is of course an option if you’re going to multiple countries, train transportation is likely going to be cheaper. The big question for a lot of American travelers to Europe is whether to buy a Eurail pass.
The short answer is that it depends. Check out these helpful insights about Eurail passes from AFAR.com.
More days on vacation means more money spent. You can shorten your trip and still have an amazing time by thoroughly planning out your daily itinerary.
If that sounds too structured, think about it this way: Rather than wander aimlessly and hope to stumble upon a memorable experience, rely on a detailed schedule to guide you through the day.
If you happen to have a stroke of traveler’s luck and discover a fantastic site along the way, then that’s a bonus.
Eating out frequently can really start to add up. But you don’t have to eliminate restaurants. After all, dining out can be a great part of your experience. Your best bet is to establish a meal plan that fits your budget. Consider these tips:
Choose carefully. Research options ahead of time and find lower-priced restaurants. Also, try dining in less touristy areas, which can mean better prices (and possibly better food).
Shop for food. Just like anywhere, picking up fruit and sandwich items from a grocery store will be a cheaper option. The bonus is that shopping for food provides a unique glimpse of local culture.
Also, if you’re staying at a hostel, you may have access to a kitchen to prepare the food you bought. See more on hostels below.
Fuel up at breakfast. Breakfast is often part of your hotel costs in Europe. Make a concerted effort to take advantage of that.
You’ll have a wide range of places to stay in Europe. You just need to take the time to find places that fit your budget. One thing you don’t want to do is wander around a city until you're exhausted and then pick a costly hotel because you’re desperate. Consider the following:
Hostels. For just the essential accommodation needs – a bed, a bathroom, a place to store your stuff – hostels can be ideal. Plus, they often have a kitchen to use and can be a great place to make new friends. Check out these tips from Hostelworld.com.
Budget hotels. Budget hotels are plentiful throughout Europe. In fact, Tripsavvy.com identifies five types of hotels for the budget-minded.
Homestays. Homestays like Airbnb are an option – just do the math and compare with other avenues. Think about how long you’ll be in one place and how close the location is to the sites you want to see.
Knowing exactly what you’re spending can of course be a great way to control that spending. Check out apps like TrabeePocket, which offers numerous features to help keep your travel budget on track.
You now have tips to help you plan smarter for your trip to Europe. Although chances are you’ll have an amazing time, there’s no way to guarantee things won’t go wrong.
The next best thing to that is travel insurance, a smart move that can help reimburse you for things like trip cancellations and interruptions; lost, stolen, or damaged valuables; medical emergencies, and even emergency medical evacuations. The U.S. State Department includes travel insurance as a key component of its traveler’s checklist.
The travel assistance included with Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection plans can also help you track down lost luggage and connect with embassies and consulates to replace lost documents.
You’re going to put a lot into planning for your European adventure. Travel insurance can be a great way to add a valuable level of protection to those hard-earned plans.
Check out our online guide, "What Is Travel Insurance All About?" We’ve provided in-depth answers to all your travel insurance questions, starting with the basics.check out the guide!
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Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection (BHTP) is a registered trademark and a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company (BHSI), a leader in specialized casualty and liability insurance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. BHTP disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.