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.
HOW TO START PLANNING A TRIP TO EUROPE
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:
- Go deep. How long is your trip? You could easily spend two weeks in a single country, soaking up famous urban sites, taking jaunts to the coast or countryside, and exploring intriguing places off the beaten path.
- Go broad. Europe gives you the opportunity to conveniently visit multiple countries all within a short amount of time – thanks especially to the exceptional train system.
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
Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PLAN FOR A TRIP TO EUROPE?
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.)
Photo by Hugo Sousa on Unsplash
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 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:
- Securing your household and letting a neighbor know you’ll be gone
- Making sure you can use your cell phone without any problems
- Telling your bank and credit card companies about your trip
- Doing your research so you stay in safer hotels and neighborhoods
- Packing for the elements and to fit in with the locals (more on this below)
- Finding out about health risks by starting with the CDC’s Travelers' Health web pages
- Signing up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and getting safety and security information for your destinations
- Bringing documents with you, including copies of passports and prescriptions (see more on this in the next section)
- Preparing a travel safety kit like the one recommended by the CDC
- Downloading travel apps to keep you safer
- Checking out the State Department’s Driving and Road Safety Abroad if you plan to drive (see more on driving in the next section)
- Letting family and close friends know your itinerary (but not on social media for security reasons)
- Checking to see you don’t take prohibited items by visiting the Customs and Import Restrictions webpage
- Purchasing travel insurance (more on this one below)
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WHAT DOCUMENTS DO YOU NEED TO TRAVEL TO EUROPE?
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.
Photo by Jonathan Gallegos on Unsplash
Additional documents for your trip to Europe
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:
- Copies of your passport and travel documents
- Copies of all prescriptions (medications, glasses, or medical supplies)
- Health insurance card and documents
- Contact card with the street addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of family members or close contacts in the U.S.
- Contact information for health care providers at home
- Names and addresses of accommodations during your trip
- Hospitals or clinics (including emergency services) in your destination
- U.S. embassy or consulate in the destination country or countries
Questions About Travel Insurance?
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.