Traveling to Europe some day is still on the list for nearly every American — Europe remains the most popular destination for Americans traveling overseas. Here you'll find some of the best Europe travel tips (as well as essential Europe ski information) to help make your travels to the Old Continent more enjoyable.
Come back and visit this website frequently, as we’re adding articles, news, and other information on a regular basis, including useful and current Europe Travel News items, timely Travel Tips, in-depth Special Reports covering a variety of travel topics, and information about exciting new Unique European Destinations.
Top 10 European Travel Tips
Europe is crowded. Europe is noisy. Unless you’re always in the countryside, bring earplugs for sleeping. (They’re also great for blocking out the screaming child in the train seat directly behind you. Just be sure you don’t miss the announcement for your stop.) Even in hotels in small towns, it can be surprisingly noisy. If you have any problems sleeping, bring those earplugs.
Europe is far ahead of the U.S. in cellular (“mobile”) coverage and technology. If you have an “unlocked” tri-band or quad-band GSM phone (ask your carrier) you can exchange the phone’s SIM chip for one for the country you’re visiting. If you’re visiting several countries, there are “international roaming” chips available. Check rates and dialing procedures of those multi-national chips carefully. If you are staying in only one or two countries, it may be cheaper to buy that country’s chip instead of an international roaming chip. Cell phones are great for reserving lodging at your next destination (see below).
Learn 20 Words and Phrases
Even though many people in western Europe speak some English, it’s helpful and courteous to be able to speak at least a few words in your host country’s language. Learn “thank you,” “please,” and other daily niceties, as well as “how much,” “where is,” and a few other finding-your-way-around phrases. In eastern Europe, many people speak and understand a fair degree of German. In western Europe, French is also widely understood in many countries.
Try the Local Food and Drink
We’ve discovered nice Merlot (and we don’t like Merlot) in coastal Slovenia. We found a wonderful new liquor (Genepi) at a ski resort in France. And we have usually had great luck with ordering the prix fixe (house specialty of the day) menu in restaurants – usually appetizer, main, drink, and dessert. Whatever you decide to try, order local. If you’re on the Med, order the seafood; in the Alps, the cheeses; whatever is fresh and local is usually great. (Oh, the asparagus we had in springtime in eastern Europe!)
Don’t Always Assume That Public Transportation is Better Than Renting a Car
We’ve mostly traveled by public transportation in Europe. Be aware, though, that subways/metro/city bus lines will probably operate differently in every place you’ll visit. (Hot tip: Don’t throw away your tube/metro/tram ticket until you’re sure you won’t need it to exit the station.) Trains may be less frequent than you’d desire; or you may not like spending two hours on a bus when you could get there in 45 minutes by car. Taxis, especially shared with a couple of traveling companions, may be a viable cost-effective alternative. In general regarding transportation, we suggest booking air or car rentals in advance, and everything else (unless you’re on a tight schedule) when you arrive (except in the busy summer season – then, reserve everything ahead, especially train reservations).
See the Small Towns and the Countryside
It’s easy to get “museum and castle overload” in the great cities of Europe. Spend some time away from the metro areas, and you’ll see the real country you’re visiting. People are friendlier, the pace is slower, things are quieter, the food and lodging will be cheaper, and you’ll feel like you’re really seeing the country.
Make Lodging Reservations in Advance
The internet has changed lodging forever. Gone are the days when you could arrive in almost any European city (outside the prime summer times) and find a hotel on the spot. Now, unless you enjoy walking for hours around marginal neighborhoods, make at least your first night’s lodging in advance at every location you visit. If you want to be more spontaneous than booking all your lodging in advance, use that Euro cell phone to call ahead a day or two in advance for reservations at your next destination.
Money, ATMs & the Euro
Almost every American knows about the Euro (€). It was originally meant to be roughly 1-to-1 Euro-Dollar, but has fluctuated widely recently. Just be aware that as the Euro rises, your purchasing power decreases on an already expensive continent. Nearly all of western Europe (except Great Britain) is on the Euro, and much of eastern Europe is adopting it. ATMs are easily found in all European cities, but may be harder to find in small towns and in the countryside. Most European establishments take Visa and MasterCard (Visa especially); fewer take American Express. We suggest carrying €100-200 (plus $50-100 worth of local currency if you're outside the Euro zone), and using your credit cards for purchases whenever possible.
Guidebooks are Useful, But Not Infallible
We generally like travel guidebooks for trip planning and getting a feel for a general area. With the advent of the internet, we’ve had much better luck finding lodging and transportation online than from any guidebook recommendation. Also take guidebook recommendations about attractions with a large grain of salt. We’ve been disappointed with several “must see” recommendations in travel guides. Obtain and carry a good local map, especially when navigating the bigger cities.
Avoid the Busy Seasons
Unless you enjoy sharing your private romantic spot with hundreds of strangers, avoid traveling to Europe in July and August. It seems everything is crowded or full, and the Europeans themselves are all on vacation, too. The other side of that is that some city facilities have reduced services, as employees abandon the cities for the beaches on their summer vacations (and most Europeans get a lot more vacation time than do Americans). Our favorite times to visit Europe are early spring (April – it’s now starting to get crowded even by early May) and fall (September and October). If you’re visiting in winter for a ski holiday, research (and avoid if you dislike crowds) school breaks, bank holidays, and other European winter vacation dates.
More Europe Travel Tips
Skiing Europe – 3 Best Tips
Pick Your Resort Carefully
Ski resorts in Europe can be far bigger than the largest North American resorts (such as Whistler or Vail). Conversely, they can be small, intimate places ideal for relaxation and romance. Just don’t go to Val d’Isere, France, expecting a quiet, cozy French village; likewise, don’t go to Murren, Switzerland, if you’re looking for vast slopes and great nightlife.
Most Resorts Cater to Week-Long Vacationers
Europe ski weeks are usually Saturday to Saturday. Many, if not most, resorts cater almost exclusively to those time frames – thus, lodging is harder to find day-to-day (or more expensive); trains, taxis, and transfers are more frequent on the weekend in/out days; even airfare can vary between midweek and weekend. On the same theme, if you prefer uncrowded slopes, avoid the UK half-term and the French school holidays. There will most assuredly be more crowds in Europe than at North America resorts, but still, the European school breaks are like U.S. spring breaks on steroids.
Ski Lodging Options
Lodging varies widely at European ski destinations. You’ll have your choices of “self-catered” vs. catered chalets (condos), large vs. small hotels, slopeside vs. village lodging, hotels with meals (usually in the hotel dining room) and without, and several other permutations. Make sure you understand the options. We’ve stayed in “self-catered” lodging where not even the toilet paper was included.
More Europe Ski Tips
All photos copyright © Kenneth & Francesca Hulick