We just returned from a two-week vacation in Europe – our first post-pandemic trip abroad. And we weren’t alone. Seems everyone is eager to get out there and start exploring stunning “old-world” destinations again.
So today I wanted to share a few tips for travel that we used on this trip.
Travel Tips For Europe And Beyond
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Leave Lots of Extra Time To Make Transit Connections
Our journey began in beautiful Copenhagen, and from there we took trains to travel through three other countries.
I had booked the train travel well in advance (more on that in my next tip), but I quickly learned that mishaps can happen at a moment’s notice, and the best laid plans can be upended.
One example was our train trip between Hamburg and Brussels: We were scheduled to change trains in Cologne, and we were to have almost an hour stopover between trains. I imagined a leisurely cup of coffee at the Cologne train station as we waited for our next connection. But in reality, there was an en-route delay on our Hamburg-Cologne train causing it to be re-routed to a different train station in Cologne. We ended up with only nine minutes to make a connection between that station and the one we were supposed to arrive at and fling ourselves onto the connecting Cologne-Brussels train before the doors closed.
We had a few more quirky little travel challenges during our trip. So, on our final day in Paris, we weren’t going to take any chances. We left our hotel a full four hours before our flight home was scheduled to depart Charles de Gaulle Airport. We knew which subway connection we needed to use to get back to the train station, and we’d bought our train tickets to the airport in advance. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, on this particular day, the usual train to CDG was not running. At the train station, we didn’t see any signage indicating this, but we could tell that something was amiss. We finally learned that we would need to catch a different train that connected to a makeshift bus line that would then take us to the airport. The crowds were huge so the wait for the bus was long, and then there was a major accident on the highway that caused a slowdown. We made our plane, but we needed every minute of those four hours we had allowed ourselves.
I’m not sharing all this to be discouraging, and there are probably many more times when things actually do go according to plan. But it is a good idea to build in extra time to make those transport connections just in case something happens.
Advance Research Can Help Avoid Confusion And Save Time And Money
As mentioned above, I booked our train travel far in advance. This saved a considerable amount of money over buying tickets on the day we needed them, and I was able to get seat assignments. Of course the drawback is that, in most cases, you are then committed to being on a particular train at a particular time.
And spending some time researching guided tours of the Louvre revealed that, although there are many tours conducted by many different tour companies, the tour that the museum itself offers is by far the least costly (that I could find anyway). And it includes entry tickets, which many of the other tours do not. So, by booking this tour, we saved both money and time.
When planning, I do a mental walk-through of the trip from start to finish and try to find as much information as I can about every practical aspect. It’s time consuming but, once we’re on vacation, I’m always thankful for my research.
One YouTube channel that I found very helpful was Wolters World. Their videos are lighthearted and relatable and, while I don’t agree with some of their generalizations, their segments on things like train travel in Europe, using the subway in Paris, and scams to be aware of, are valuable nuggets of information.
And of course there is Rick Steves. His website is packed with information, and I find his travel forum especially helpful if I have specific questions.
If I’m considering a specific hotel or tour, I always check out the reviews on Tripadvisor.
If hotels seem overpriced in certain locations, I check out the listings on Airbnb. They often provide a comfortable, unique and authentic alternative to staying in a hotel. I always look for listings with a “Superhost” designation, read the reviews, and make sure that the unit is well-situated for the area I want to explore.
There are many more travel channels and websites to explore. But choose wisely since there is good advice and not-so-good advice floating around out there.
Two Apps We Used Constantly Were Google Maps and Google Translate
When traveling, there is nothing more confusing than looking at signage or a menu printed in a language you don’t speak. But the Google Translate app has a feature where you can snap a photo of a menu, or anything printed in a native language, and it will translate it to English (or any other desired language). So, while I feel that Google Translate is still not as intuitive as it could be, we did use this feature constantly.
Google Maps was also extremely helpful – although sometimes it lagged behind our actual location or gave us contradictory information. But in the end it usually came through – even for little things like finding the entrance to the Louvre. (I also printed and brought directions to our hotels and other destinations just in case something happened to my cell phone while we were traveling.)
Of course, before you leave home, be sure to check with your phone plan provider to make sure you won’t be hit with huge roaming fees when using your cellphone in Europe.
Pack Only What You Are Able to Carry
At train stations and other transport locations, escalators aren’t always easy to find. When rushing to catch trains, there were a few times where I had to run down a flight of stairs carrying my luggage. There were also many times when I pulled my luggage across cobblestones. And my relatively light luggage load barely fit into the tiny elevator at our Paris hotel.
So, unless you’re on a luxury vacation where your baggage is handled for you, it’s a good idea to pack light.
Watch Where You’re Going And Wear Good Walking Shoes
I know this seems like very basic advice. But, the most charming locations in Europe usually have cobblestones – which can be uneven, easy to trip on, and hard on the feet. I treated walking on cobblestones somewhat like a hike: I looked down occasionally and I wore good solid walking shoes.
Also, bike lanes are prevalent in many European cities, and they can look a lot like pedestrian walkways. Many residents commute by bike, and they take these bike lanes very seriously. So, when you’re walking, know the difference or risk being reprimanded or clipped by a biker.
Learn How To Say This
If someone walked up to me in my home country and started speaking a foreign language, expecting me to understand, I would be taken aback. So, for any country I visit, I try to learn how to say, “Do you speak English?” in the local language. It’s a respectful conversation starter – much more polite than just marching up to a stranger and asking for help or information in English.
Short of that, it’s still a nice gesture to at least ask in English, “Do you speak English?”
And now we turn our attention to:
Tips For Packing For A Trip To Europe (Or Anywhere)
Everyone has their own way of packing, but these are just a few of the things that I do to keep my luggage organized and light.
We will start with the most important tip:
Pack Wash Cloths
Most hotels and guest houses in Europe do not supply wash cloths. So we always bring our own. (Having a quick-drying travel wash cloth is always a plus.)
Use Contact Lens Storage Cases For Beauty Supplies
Many skin care products these days are so good that we don’t need to use large quantities for them to be effective. I use contact lens storage cases for things like eye cream, night cream, deep conditioner, and many other products that I will only need a little of.
I just label each chamber so I know what it contains. When I unpack at my destination, these containers take up very little space in the bathroom – especially when stacked.
Use Packing Cubes To Stay Organized
I know some people don’t like packing cubes because they feel they take up too much luggage space. But packing cubes are actually very thin and flexible. I like them because they help keep me organized. I use a large one for my clothes, a smaller one for socks and underwear, another for small miscellaneous items like bushes, razors, vitamins, and first aid supplies (but always keep prescription medications in your hand-carried luggage), and an even smaller one for electronics like electrical plug adaptors and chargers.
When I reach my destination, it’s easy to unpack by just placing the whole packing cube into the drawer or armoire. And I can instantly find anything that I need. On our recent trip, they made living out of a suitcase for over two weeks so much easier.
Bring Laundry Sheets And Dryer Sheets
I am always exchanging tips for eco-friendly products with my sister-in-law. Right before I left on my trip, she gave me some Earth Breeze laundry detergent sheets to try. I brought a few on our trip because they are so much lighter and easier to pack than a liquid or powdered laundry detergent.
I did most of our laundry by hand in various hotel sinks, and these laundry sheets worked for that as well. I could easily tear off and use a smaller portion of a sheet if I only had a small amount to wash.
I took a dryer sheet in case I needed it, but also to keep my luggage smelling fresh.
The size and weight limits for carry-on luggage can be more strict on international flights than on domestic flights. We would have to check our suitcases, so we made sure to have TSA-approved luggage padlocks on our checked luggage. Another good precaution, but one we didn’t take this time around, is to use luggage trackers.
Travel Broadens Horizons
We had some unforgettable experiences on this trip – from spotting active stork nests from the top of all old bell tower in a small Belgian village,
To seeing the Eiffel Tower from the Seine River.
We ate the local specialties, learned a lot of things (like Paris food servers are not nearly as rude as some people say), and gained a new appreciation for the many layers of human history that can be found in Europe.
Our horizons have been broadened, and all the planning and preparation that went into our trip was well worth it.
For some of my other posts about travel, check out Tips for Happy Travel – And Our European Adventure Part 3, Three So-Cal Adventures Plus Budget-Friendly Travel Tips, Three Small Towns Near Sedona, and Lobsters, Lanterns, And Paul Revere.
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