7 Things You Need to Know Before Going on a European Tour

If you live in North America, it can be hard to believe how many unique cities there are in Europe just a few short miles from each other. The sheer amount of history, gastronomy, architecture, art, and culture that are packed into a single continent is mind blowing.

Whether you’re heading to Europe solo, with a friend or partner, or with a group of friends or family, it definitely pays to prepare before you go. Being aware of all the options before you arrive, especially if you’re touring a country where English isn’t the first language, is helpful if you need to change your plans last minute, and helps you feel secure when arriving in a new place.

There’s no single method of trip planning that works for everyone. Some people book travel first, then figure out how to get from place to place, while others come up with a gigantic list of activities that they want to do and fit them into a timeline that works. There’s no right way to do it since everyone uses the method that works for their personality. However, there are some aspects of trip planning that are necessary in order to have both a safe and enjoyable trip.

Here are a few things that you need to know before going on a European tour.

Let your credit card company know your plans

Gone are the days of emergency travelers checks or traveling with large amounts of cash. Most people who are visiting Europe just use their credit cards. However, there are two major caveats to this tip. You should always carry at least a few bills of the local currency, in case a restaurant or shop doesn’t take your card, or if you want to leave a quick tip.

You should also let your credit card company know you’ll be out of the country, so they don’t put a fraud alert on your card. Most of the time you can do this on your credit card company’s website, but you may have to call them and put a travel notification on your card over the phone.

Consider buying a rail pass

If you’re going to be in Europe for longer than a week and are taking a train more than twice in that time, you should definitely consider purchasing a rail pass — especially if you’re under the age of 28 and a non-EU citizen.

There are several different types of Eurail passes that are designed to allow easy rail travel between all the different EU member countries. Depending on where you’re going, you’ll want to pick either a One Country Pass, a Select Pass (which will allow access to two, three, or four bordering countries), or a Global Pass, which gives access to all 28 member countries. These passes range in price between $65 and $2000 USD, depending on how long you’re traveling for.

Book your tours before your arrival

There are tons of different ways that you can access tours in Europe, ranging from formal guided group tours which last anywhere from an afternoon to several days, and informal walking tours designed by local companies which are usually inexpensive and casual. There are tours of every well-known museum run by curatorial staff, walking tours centered around architecture or food, and tons of other options. If you can dream it, there’s probably someone running a tour on it.

Many of the more formal tours, especially those of famous galleries and museums like the Louvre in Paris or Uffizi Gallery in Florence, sell out quite early, so it’s worth buying these tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

Pack light

There are challenging aspects of many European accommodations that still surprise some North Americans like the lack of elevators in hotels or the rocky cobblestoned streets. One of the ways that you can avoid these problems is to pack light. In fact, it’s fully possible to do a month-long trip using only carry-on luggage.

You’ll need to choose versatile clothing that’s easily washable, and limit bulkier items like shoes, but it doesn’t take long to see the benefits of packing light. Hauling around a huge suitcase or backpack can be exhausting, and just having a carry-on size suitcase or smaller backpack allows you to sightsee even on travel days. Plus, if you’re taking inter-Europe flights, many of the budget carriers severely limit your baggage allowance, forcing you to pay extra just to check a bag.

Be prepared to go over budget

When you’re budgeting for your Europe trip, make sure that you plan in advance for the eventuality that you go over your ideal daily limit a few times. Food in Europe tends to be much more expensive than it is in North America and walking around all day can really build up an appetite.

If you build a bit of padding into your initial budget, you won’t be as shocked when you get home and look at your credit card bill for the first time. Another way that you can help yourself stay under budget is to buy practical souvenirs, like linens, clothing, and food items. Things that you would need to purchase anyway, but now carry positive memories of your trip when you use them every day.

Don’t schedule every minute

One of the best aspects of being away from home is simply living your life in a new place. If you’re in a new city for a few days, you can get the sense of how the people there live their lives; which coffee shops are popular, where people buy their food, and how they spend their leisure time. Scheduling tours and visits to popular sites is key if you want to maximize your time away, but you should always leave some time free for aimless wandering. That’s usually when you find the places that carry the most special memories.

Be open to new experiences

It’s hard to feel like you experienced a new place if you stayed at an international hotel chain, ate only at international food chains, and shopped at brand-name stores. One of the best things about travel is that it opens you up to new experiences. Many people never travel because they can’t imagine what they would do away from home, but the secret is that you’ll never know until you get there.

Don’t be afraid to meet new people, change your plans, explore new places, and sample new foods and drinks. You never know. You may meet someone, or experience something that will change your life forever.

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