Going to Europe is exciting, but can be stressful, too. By arranging a
few things while you're still at home, you'll greatly increase your
chances of having a smooth, enjoyable European vacation.
Check your passport
it due to expire soon? You may be denied entry into certain countries
if your passport will expire within three to six months of your ticketed
date of return. Get it renewed if you'll be cutting it close.
Stash photocopies of important travel documents
at home or abroad, anybody can experience unexpected problems from loss
or theft. If you have a copy of a valuable document, it's easier to
replace the original. In fact, make two sets of photocopies of your
passport and railpass or car-rental voucher. (For debit and credit
cards, just record the numbers, rather than photocopy them.) Pack one
copy and leave the other with a buddy at home, to be faxed or emailed to
you in case of an emergency. I hide my copy in a second money belt
clipped into the bottom of my luggage (don't tell anyone).
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Contact your debit and credit-card companies
to your trip, call your bank and credit-card company to let them know
which countries you'll be visiting. This will ensure that they don't
decline foreign transactions. While you have them on the line, confirm
your debit card's daily withdrawal limit, request an increase if you
want, and ask about fees for international transactions.
Arrange your transportation
tickets for any flights you might need to take within Europe as early
as possible, since the cheapest seats sell out fast. Train travelers
should decide whether it makes sense to buy a railpass (these cover
trips in one or more countries for a set number of days); if so, you'll
need to buy it before you leave the U.S. If you plan to take the Eurostar between London and Paris, book tickets far ahead for the best fares.
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you're renting a car, your driver's license is all you need in most
places, but some countries, including Austria, Greece, Italy, and Spain,
also require an International Driving Permit. While that's the letter
of the law, I've rented cars in dozens of countries without an IDP - and
have never been asked to show one. You can get an IDP at your local AAA office.
Take care of medical business
your doctor to get a checkup, and deal with any dental work that needs
to be done. If you use prescription drugs, bring a sufficient supply to
cover your trip, along with a copy of your prescription so you can
refill it at a European pharmacy if necessary. Call your health
insurance provider to see if they cover you internationally or whether
you might need to buy special medical insurance.
Look into travel insurance
can minimize the financial risks of a vacation. Your potential loss
varies, depending on factors such as your health, how much of your trip
is prepaid, the refundability of your air ticket, and what coverage you
already have (through your medical, homeowners', or renters' insurance,
and/or credit card).
For me, trip cancellation
and interruption insurance is the most usable and worthwhile type. If I
think there's a greater than 1-in-20 chance I'll need it (for instance,
if I have a loved one in frail health at home), this can be a very good
value and provide needed assurance. But if I'm healthy and hell-bent on
making a trip, I'll risk it and not spend the extra.
Prepare gadgets for takeoff
you plan to use your U.S. mobile phone in Europe, consider signing up
for an international calling, text, and/or data plan, and confirm voice-
and data-roaming fees. If you're bringing a mobile device, download any
tools that might come in handy on the road, such as translators, maps,
transit schedules, e-books, Internet calling apps, and free audio tours
(including mine, covering some of Europe's top sights and
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Make sleeping, eating, and sightseeing plans
those who want maximum choice and peace of mind, book accommodations
well before your trip, especially if you'll be traveling during peak
season, major holidays, or popular festivals. To avoid long lines at
major sights, such as the Eiffel Tower and Florence's Uffizi Gallery, make advance reservations online (I'll cover this topic in more depth in a future column).
best travelers are those who plan ahead. With a little advance legwork,
you'll return home with rich stories of spontaneous European
writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public
television and public radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow
his blog on Facebook.