Planning A Trip To Europe? Need Help?

I have known about traveling to Europe for over a year now, and somehow I am still planning it and discovering things I've missed. I'm not sure I've got it all under control, but I did want to share what I've learned along the way. Some of this will be a review to long-time readers, but other tidbits will be brand new unless you happen to be … more traveled than me (which isn't too hard to do).

1. Obtain passport.
  • Allow at least a month to receive it, if not more. Remember last October when the government shut down?
  • You can pay to have the passport expedited, but once again … remember when the government shut down? They don't exactly stay after hours to process your passport. You aren't that special.
  • When you are moving, you do not have to change your address! I called and verified. If you are changing your name though, you probably want to send the passport in either a month or so before traveling OR wait until after your trip to change it.
2. GOES.
  • It costs $100 and comes with PreCheck (usually).
  • Be sure to check your credit card to confirm you have to pay for GOES. Your credit card may pay for it for you. (Amex Platinum people, I'm looking at you!)
  • Enter your "trusted traveler number" in when you purchase plane tickets and/or if you are part of a status program with an airline to take advantage of PreCheck. (If you are going to pay for it, you might as well use it!)
  • Each person must apply for GOES separately and take part in a screening interview. From what I understand, some cities don't have a place for GOES interviews and you have to travel to a different city to complete it; make sure your city is not one.
  • Paying the $100 does not automatically get you GOES. See interview process mentioned above. You don't get the money back either way.
3. Travel Documents:
  • If you plan to rent/lease a car, apply through AAA to get an international license. You need 2 passport style photos and proof of your citizenship. It takes literally 2 minutes and provides translations of your license should you meet up with a police officer overseas.
  • Keep an extra copy of your travel documents online and easy to access via Dropbox or perhaps an e-mail to yourself.
  • You may want to print your tickets prior to going to the airport/museum/amusement park or even proof of purchase for hotels. It's hard to argue with documents.
  • Take the credit card you used to pay for your plane tickets with you. The airline may ask to see it.
  • Having a printed copy of your hotel address (or any address you are trying to get to) will aid you in getting directions or taking a cab if you don't speak the language.
4. Communication
  • I've heard others recommend unlocking your cell phone prior to leaving the country and getting a SIM card while in Europe. Whatever you do, do not use your cell phone like you would in the US; if you do, your bill may be incredibly high from roaming charges when you return home.
  • WhatsApp is great for communicating with others that are overseas. Skype too. I haven't tried Facetime. You need the internet for these apps to work.
  • Look over/study other languages for the countries you are going to as much as you can before traveling. (I haven't, but when I accidentally order the wrong food/get lost, I will have no one to blame but myself.)
1. Leasing/Renting a car:
  • Lease a car before leaving the US to avoid paying the VAT taxes on it, but only if you are staying in Europe 21 days or longer.
  • Leased cars are fully covered if anything happens to them with no extra fees.
  • Anyone can drive a leased car anywhere in Europe so long as the lessor is in the car with them.
  • Driving may save you money, but it will not necessarily save you time. Keep this in mind before renting a car especially if you are traveling to a large number of countries.
  • Gas in Europe is more expensive. Diesel may be the way to go.
  • Cars are a lot smaller than they are in America. Keep in mind the roads, parking, etc… is also smaller. You may not want a large car.
  • You will save money by renting or leasing a manual vehicle. Automatic cars are much rarer there.
  • Don't forget about tolls!
  • Read about the driving rules in Europe before getting there. I've heard (although not yet experienced) that right turns on red are not ok in most European countries. I've also heard this is a hard habit to break. 
2. Consider lesser-known airlines when flying between European countries
  • I've heard about this, but I haven't actually had experience with it.
3. Taking the train may not be as cheap as you think.
  • You also want to consider how much luggage you will be transporting and carrying.
  • The train could save you money on parking in certain cities (i.e. Venice, Italy; Rome, Italy; and Paris, France). A lot of these cities have specific rules about when you can drive, if you can drive, and one in particular (Paris) is known for being a bad/scary place to drive.
  • Students (people under 26) can get student-fare which will save money.
4. Obtain a travel credit card for points if you have a credit-worthy FICO score.
  • Currently, Citi is offering 100,000 AA miles for sign up. Considering I recently saw a deal to travel business class to Europe for 112,000 miles, mileage earning credit cards are definitely worth it.
1. Get a Credit Card with $0 transaction fees. Take more than one.
  • No, I don't want to pay to transfer my dollars into Euros. You shouldn't want to either. (For example, my Costco Amex charges 3.5% for changing dollars to Euros! That can add up QUICK!)
  • It's probably also a good idea to inform your credit card companies (whichever you choose) that you are going overseas so that they don't block your account.
  • Take more than one credit card. If they do block your account, how will you pay for your purchases?
  • Keep your cards separated. What if a pickpocket picks your pocket?
  • Credit cards in Europe use a "chip and pin" technology most American cards don't have. Keep this in mind.
2. Open a Checking Account with no ATM fees.
  • I've heard Charles Schwab is great. There are others as well.
  • You want a checking account that won't charge fees to transfer dollars to Euros as well. Remember the 3.5% I mentioned earlier?
3. Check out Global Blue.
  • I don't want to pay VAT taxes if I don't have to. The Global Blue Card helps you avoid those fees by keeping track of your purchases made overseas and crediting you with the tax amount after your purchases have been verified as going to the US and you submit the form.
  • Apply for this card at least a month prior to leaving.
  • Taxes from any service industries will still apply. (Think food, hotel, haircut, etc…)
1. Follow travel-hacking blogs or read forums to discover the best hotel deals.
2. Join hotel frequent traveler programs to earn points for your stays at specific hotels.
  • If you are following travel blogs or join the Travel Hacking Cartel, you can easily obtain higher statuses without staying multiple times or spending lots of money. Deals pop up every-so-often, so you have to keep your eyes peeled for these types of deals.
  • Hotel branded credit cards that allow you to rack up points quickly are also a great option. Remember you can sign up for both business and personal credit card accounts.
3. Use Kayak to compare hotel deals and/or match hotel prices.
  • Up in the right-hand corner, you can choose which language and type of money you want the prices displayed in.
  • Be sure to check to make sure you can't get a cheaper price on another "matchable" website. Often the chains will provide a free room or other monetary discount plus give you points if you find the same hotel, on the same nights, for the same type of room for a lower price. Be sure to read all of the terms and conditions before purchasing though unless you are willing to take a chance that they won't accept your price-match.
4. Consider staying at an alternative location.
  • Obviously friends and family are awesome.
  • I recommend Airbnb and VRBO if you want to stay in someone's home or apartment. You can save money on food by cooking yourself. It also allows for a more "authentic" experience.
  • Hostels. I've never stayed at one, so I'm not sure if I would like it. Typically you provide your own linens/towels, share a room, and/or bathroom. I believe some also have kitchens to cook in. To me, it sounds a bit too much like college dormitory living which I didn't like – to each their own, though!
1. Check to see if the city you are visiting has a city pass. This is especially useful if you are visiting multiple museums.
2. Research the best times of day/best days to visit local museums and attractions. Apparently, Paris offers a free day on the first Sunday of the month for many local museums.
3. Look up or ask a local about tipping etiquette. 
4. Consider going grocery shopping and having a picnic. :)

I think the most important tip I can provide is to start your research early!

That's all of the helpful hints I can think of for now. I know most of my readers haven't had the chance to visit Europe, but I'd love to hear more travel advice if anyone has any?! There are so many ways to save when traveling, and I know that I don't know half of them!

* Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

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