Before you go to leave, be sure to read these 50 essential Europe travel tips that you help you travel Europe like a pro!
Europe Travel Tips: 50 Things You Should Know Before Going to Europe
Europe is my favorite place to travel. Despite having traveled extensively around the world, it’s still the place I return to again and again. We travel Europe at least once a year, and even lived there for an entire year!
There are so many incredible places to go in Europe with so many different countries and cultures to explore without actually traveling very far! Traveling through Europe can seem a little overwhelming if you’ve never been before, so I wanted to share a few things you should know before going to Europe. This will make your first visit much more enjoyable.
If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to read these 10 tips for taking kids to Europe.
1. Budget for Your Trip
Before you even purchase tickets to Europe, sit down, like a responsible adult, and plan a budget for your trip to Europe. Make sure it’s realistic and make sure it’s something that you can afford right now. While I love to rack up credit card points by using them on travel, it’s important to be reasonable. The good news is that Europe can be done fairly inexpensively, in fact, we actually spent less money traveling Europe for a year than we did staying home!
How much does it cost to travel Europe?
That answer really depends on how many people are in your party, what style of travel you like, and how budget you’re willing to go. You can travel Europe cheap if you’re smart about it, but I would plan on $1,000/person for each week just to be safe.
The cheapest way to travel Europe is to plan ahead and shop around for the best deals on accommodation, transportation, and airfare because there are tons of Europe travel deals out there on the internet! If you want to know how to travel Europe cheap, you can read about how we actually spend less money living there for a year than we did at home.
Be sure to read my guide to planning financially for a vacation, which includes a Europe travel budget calculator so that you can find out just how much your trip will cost.
2. Save for Your Trip
Now that you have your budget set in place for visiting Europe you can start saving! These are some easy ways that I save money for travel. You don’t need to turn over your whole paycheck, but you’ll need to make saving for travel a priority so you don’t go into crazy debt to be able to afford it. Credit cards definitely have their place and can be useful for earning points, but be sure you pay it off each month! If you can’t afford to do so, maybe don’t spend it. This is why having a travel fund is so important. When those travel deals pop up you’ll be ready to jump with your special savings!
3. Check Europe Travel Visa Requirements
Americans traveling to Europe won’t need a Visa to travel to most countries on the continent. Europe travel visas are a little complicated, but you can learn more about them here. If you’re looking to stay in Europe for more than 90 days, read this.
Beginning in 2021, US citizens and citizens of other previoiusly non-visa countries coming to the EU will now need a ETIAS Visa. Read here for what that means for you.
4. Buy Flights Early
You can usually get the best deals to Europe by booking early. Start keeping an eye out for cheap flights as early as possible. Read my guide to finding cheap flights to be sure you’re getting the best deals!
5. Read Books About your Destinations
Once you decide where you’re going in Europe, find books to read about it. I don’t mean guide books, although those can be great. I love these ones. I mean books, both fiction and nonfiction, that tell a story set in Europe. It can make your trip so much more meaningful when you have some connections.
You can read this awesome list of 100+ books organized by continent that will inspire you to travel.
6. Pack Light
Pack light, especially if you’ll be traveling around Europe and taking public transportation. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to haul heavy luggage around on trains! I promise!
Make a packing list, then take less than you think you’ll need. If you’re going to Europe for more than one week, pack for one week, then plan on washing and/or re-wearing what you’ve brought. There’s nothing shameful about washing your laundry in a tub or sink or even spending some time with the locals at the laundromat! It could be an adventure!
If you want to wash your own clothes more efficiently, consider getting one of these awesome laundry wash bags that make laundry day way easier and more fun!
7. Bring Melatonin to Beat Jetlag
Consult your doctor before taking any medication. I am not a doctor, but this is what works for me. I buy the gummy melatonin (because I have kids) and take it with me every time I travel. Sleeping in a new bed is hard enough, but add a 6 hour time difference once you’re in Europe and it’s all over! When you’re ready for bed, take about 3-10 mg of melatonin which will help you shift your internal clock. Melatonin is an over the counter sleep aid and can be purchased at any drug store or grocery store. I really like this one because it tastes delicious and is 5mg (a good amount for adults) and this one for kids or smaller people since it’s only 2.5 mg (which is hard to find in stores).
Be sure to pull down the shades and make it as dark as possible. I like to use this amazing eye mask to achieve complete darkness! I love that it leaves space for your eyelashes, which is a huge selling point for me! And yes, it does look like a bra for your eyes!
8. Don’t Try to See it All!
Traveling to Europe for the first time will be so exciting and you’re going to want to see as much as you can. Europe is filled with so many bucket list destinations screaming to be visited! Unless you’re staying in Europe for a year, don’t try to see it all in one trip! Europe is huge and each country is so different. Just one city could honestly keep you busy for a lifetime!
Even though it’s so easy to travel around Europe, don’t spend all of your time on a train, plane or car! Plus, just more reasons to come back right?! I would stick to 2-3 cities in one visit depending on the length of your trip. The best way to travel Europe is slowly! Take your time, you can always come back.
If you only have one week, these 20 One-Week Europe Trip Itinerary Ideas will help you decide which cities to visit.
9. Book Your Accommodations as Early as Possible
Once you know where you’re going in Europe you can book your accommodation. The sooner you book your accommodation in Europe the better! You’ll have more options and lower prices. Consider using Airbnb instead of staying in a hotel. It can significantly increase your savings! You can even use this $40 coupon to help you save extra! Staying in an Airbnb also allows you to see your destination as the locals do.
10. Learn How to Travel Around Europe
Before arriving in any city, be sure to do some research and learn how to get around using public transportation or a rental car. Each city has its own rules that can be complicated to say the least. Using public transportation in a foreign country can be a great way to experience cities like a local but can also be intimidating. Be sure to do your research ahead of time so you know how to use each public transportation system. If you’re going to London, read my guide to getting around London here.
11. Travel Europe by Train
Train travel in Europe is an efficient and inexpensive way to get around within the countries and between them. You may want to consider getting a Rail Pass. When you travel Europe by train, be sure you know the rules for each country.
If you’re going to Italy, read about how to use the train system in Italy here.
12. Get an International Drivers License
Be careful when renting cars in Europe that you check to see if an international drivers license is required. Obtaining one is quick and easy. You can make an appointment at any AAA. You’ll need 2 pictures of yourself and your drivers’ license. Read this to learn more.
13. Call Your Credit Card Company
Before leaving for your trip to Europe, call your bank and/or credit card company and tell then where and when you’re traveling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my card put on hold from forgetting to do this!14. Take a Credit Card, Debit Card, and Cash
In Europe they have this thing called “Chip and Pin” that the US hasn’t seemed to catch onto for some reason. Because of this, your credit card might not work sometimes, so be sure you have a debit card and/or cash on hand.
15. Have Cash with You
I recommend using an ATM to withdrawal the local currency as it will use your bank’s exchange rate, which will most likely be lower than the currency exchange booths at the airport.
You’ll also want to have cash as some places may not accept cards. This is especially true for many gelaterias in Europe! You want to be sure to have cash for those important things like gelato!!! Some small towns in Europe may not even accept cards at restaurants, so you’ll want to have a decent chunk of cash hidden away.
16. Know About the Currency of Each Country
When I went to Europe as a little girl, before the EU was formed, every country had a different currency. It was really fun to collect the coins, but a nightmare when you were road tripping through Europe!
Now, most countries in Europe use the Euro, but some countries still use their own currency. Here is a list of countries who use the Euro:
- San Marino
All other European countries that don’t use the Euro use a local currency. You can see a complete list here.
17. Leave the Majority of Your Cash in the Hotel
While it’s important to have cash available during your trip to Europe, you don’t want to be carrying around hundreds of Euros/Pounds/Franks/etc. every day. Leave the majority of your cash in your hotel or Airbnb. Be sure to put it away so it’s not visible.
18. Wear Your Cash
I like to carry cash close to me in one of these carriers or in my favorite travel accessory ever… a fanny pack (bum bag for non-Americans). How did I ever live from age 10-30 without one of these?! Why did I stop wearing them? They’re literally the best invention!
I own several, including this beautiful one from Fawn Design, but I love these ones as well, and they come in 12 different colors. They are a perfect size to put your phone and wallet in. I even have this larger fanny pack that actually holds my Sony camera! I like it because you can turn it into a purse if you feel so inclined, but honestly, why would you want to?! Everyone get on the fanny pack train with me ok?! Please!
19. Spend Your Coins
I’m not used to pulling out coins to pay for things in the US unless I’m buying gum! But in Europe you’ll be getting a lot of 2 Euro coins that add up quickly. Be sure you spend your coins as well as your cash. Also, if you’re exchanging any leftover currency at the airport before you go home, they do not accept coins! I usually give my kids all my leftover coins to go to town at the airport gift shops!
20. Know How to Stay Safe
Europe is pretty safe in general. But just like anywhere in the world, it is best to be on your guard and be away of risks and threats around you. Be especially careful in highly touristy areas where there are large crowds in small spaces. I highly recommend wearing a fanny pack instead of a backpack. And if you have a backpack, don’t keep your wallet in the front pocket where it’s accessible to pickpockets.
Don’t walk alone at night down dark alleys. Basically, take the same types of precautions that you’d take at home.
Also beware of scammers asking for you to sign a petition, mothers with children asking you for money, or people posing as train company employees offering to help you buy tickets. These are pretty well-known scams around Europe, so just keep an eye out and know what you’re up against.
21. Travel Insurance Europe
It’s always a good idea to have travel insurance when you travel to Europe. I think the best travel insurance for Europe is World Nomads. They are a reputable company that has been around for a long time. You can check their rates here. I also really like Allianz because kids are free! You can check their rates here.
22. Register with the State Department
For safety reasons, it’s a good idea to register your location and dates with the State Department. Especially if you’re travelling alone in Europe. It’s easy and only takes a few minutes. If anything were to happen, the Embassy would know to find and help you! You’ll see why I feel so strongly about this in my next tip…
23. Always Carry Your Passport
I feel like this is a highly debated topic, but I’m just giving you my personal opinion. We keep our passports with us at all times in Europe. We were in Paris on the day of the attacks a few years ago. If anything had happened to us it would have been essential for us to have our passports, especially if we couldn’t get back to our Airbnb. You just never know what could happen and it’s always better to be prepared for anything.
24. Book Attraction Tickets in Advance
With travel becoming more and more popular and overtourism becoming a real problem, popular attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Vatican, London Eye, and Colosseum require advanced booking or you risk not being able to visit them. This happened to us on one of our visits to Paris with the kids and it was a total bummer. You can book almost any attraction in Europe here, including skip the line tours.
25. Don’t Over-Plan
While it’s important to plan out your trip, especially for major attractions, be sure to leave some unscheduled time in your European itinerary for downtime and also for wandering aimlessly, which is one of my very favorite European vacation pastimes!
26. Get Off the Beaten Path
Definitely visit those top sites that you’ve been dreaming of seeing (there’s really no comparison to the Eiffel Tower), but don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path a bit and explore some alternative destinations and sites around Europe. With over 15 million tourists each year, Europe can get crowded, especially during peak season. Don’t be afraid to leave the tourists’ path and try something new and different.
27. Stay Connected Abroad
I don’t know about you, but I literally cannot live without my phone. It’s not because I’m addicted to technology (ok maybe I am) But seriously, maps, UBER, etc…so hard to live without those things, especially when traveling! Stay connected by either getting a local SIM Card (most airports will have kiosks where you can rent or buy one, or you can just buy one online here) or use a Portable WiFi device like Skyroam, Express VPN. Learn more about why you need a VPN here.
28. Learn a few words of the local language
Knowing just a few words in the local language can be hugely helpful. Just knowing how to say please, thank you, yes, no, and excuse me can be crucial. Lucky for us language-lacking Americans, most people in Europe’s city centers will speak passing English and be able to understand what you’re saying at least. The farther out from the cities you get, the more difficult this becomes.
29. Wake Up Early
This may seem basic, but it’s probably one of my best Europe travel tips! Make use of those early morning hours and wander the streets before the rest of the tourists descend. This is especially true for Venice, Paris, and Rome, which can be magical places in the morning light. It’s the only time you’ll be able to experience these cities without the hoards.
I like to wake up around 5:30 or 6 and walk out the door right around the time the sun comes up, which will vary depending on the season you visit. Then we usually have an early lunch and go back to our Airbnb or hotel for a rest during the hottest and busiest hours of the day so we can recharge, and go out again around 3 or 4 for more exploring. Then we have dinner after the sun goes down to take advantage of all the daylight hours.
30. Shop at the Grocery Stores
One of my favorite things to do when visiting Europe is to shop at the grocery stores! I know it seems really silly, and non-vacation-like, but I get pretty sick of eating out and I love to discover the different products in foreign countries.
If you visit Paris, Monoprix is my favorite store. In London, I love Marks & Spencer. At these stores, you can also usually find premade salads, sandwiches, and pre-cut and packaged fruits and vegetables which make for really convenient picnic food or just a meal on the go. It’s also a great way to save money while traveling in Europe.
Pay attention to the opening hours because some shops close in the afternoon for lunch and a nap!
31. Shop at the Markets
Be sure to spend some time shopping at the local markets around Europe. You never know what you’ll find. Most markets are not just a touristy thing to do, but places that locals come to get their weekly or daily groceries. Try something you’ve never tried before. You never know what you might fall in love with. Some of my favorite European foods are ones that I’ve tried at a market. Check out the best European markets here.
32. Know How to Find Authentic Restaurants
When you’re looking for a great authentic and affordable place to eat in Europe, get AWAY from the main tourist attractions at least several blocks before considering anything.
Avoid places with pictures of food and a million things on the menu and no prices. Good restaurants will have only a small selection of food and no pictures!
Look for locals! If you don’t see a lot of tourists eating there, but it’s packed with locals, then you’re good!
33. Be Aware of the Coperto
Be aware of the coperto, which is basically a charge for sitting down to eat. Some people in Venice have recently been scammed and charged several hundred dollars for the coperto! It’s rare, but just beware and don’t be afraid to ask. Most menus will have the coperto price listed in really small print somewhere.
When eating out in Europe you may have to be a little more forthright with your waiter. Only in America do the waitstaff check on you every 5 minutes! Since tipping is not as expected in Europe as it is in the US so you won’t receive the level of butt-kissing that you may be used to. Don’t be afraid to signal them for attention if you need something and you’ll probably need to ask for the check when you’re done.
If you’re visiting a pub in the UK, you’ll need to order your food at the bar, then find a seat. We’ve learned these lessons the hard and embarrassing way, so please take my advice!
34. Know About Tipping in Europe
Tipping is pretty expected in Europe, but not the 15-20% like in the US. It’s hard for me to let this one go, but the customary tip is usually the small change if you’re paying cash. I’ll be honest I still leave a pretty good tip, especially if I had a great waiter who was patient with me and walked me through the menu and made suggestions. If you can afford it, I think it would make someone’s day to give a good tip, especially if they’re deserving, however, it’s not required or expected.
If you’re paying for dinner with a card, you’ll most likely need to bring cash for a tip! The card machines in most restaurants in Europe do not allow for you to leave a tip on your card.
Also, when paying with a card, your waiter will bring the card machine to the table. This is something I wish they’d do in the US as well. I don’t like the idea of someone walking off with my card!
35. It’s OK to Drink the Water
Most of the water in Europe is safe to drink from the tap. In most restaurants, you will not be given tap water without asking for it, especially if you’re American, but don’t be afraid to ask!
36. Eat at McDonald’s
I know…this seems like the most ridiculous bad-tourist thing to do! But eating at McDonald’s in Europe is a really fun experience. Every country has its own spin on the fast food chain. France has Croque Monsieur, Italy has mozzarella sticks, etc. Plus, my kids tell me that the toys in the Happy Meals are better in Europe…in case you were wondering!
37. Take a Bus Tour
Take a bus tour. Taking the HOHO bus (hop on hop off) on your first day in a new city can be really helpful. It allows you to get a good overview of the city quickly so you’ll be prepared to take it on by foot!
38. Take an UBER Tour
Many cities in Europe offer UBER tours where you can book a driver for an hour and they will take you around the city. It’s great to have a local who drives the city for a living taking you to all their favorite spots. We did this in Rome and it was one of our favorite experiences!
39. Take Free Walking Tours
Many European cities offer free walking tours, which can be a great way to learn about a city. Be sure to tip your guide well since your tour was free!
40. Rent a Bike
Renting a bike is a great way to see areas of Europe. I love biking in Paris especially. You can also book bike tours that provide a guide.
41. Book Airbnb Experiences
If you’re looking for a really authentic experience with a local, book a tour or class through Airbnb. We have done cooking classes, food tours, and photography tours through Airbnb and they’ve all been great! It’s a great way to connect with a local and really enrich your trip.
42. Visit Museums
No one does museums better than Europe! Maybe because there is so much history there, they seem to be masters at preserving and displaying artifacts and also making it really fun and educational at the same time.
Take advantage of the many museums in Europe. If you’re traveling to Europe with kids, they will especially benefit from this as they are free in most museums. Don’t be afraid to try the smaller lesser-known museums, as well, as these can be real hidden gems. Check out the awesome museums just in London here.
43. Attend Theater or Concerts
Take advantage of all the culture and talent in Europe. It can really enrich your experience to see a show or a concert. We love seeing shows in the west end in London, ballets in Paris, operas in Vienna, and orchestra concerts in Venice!
44. Take Advantage of Free Activities and Sites
Keep an eye out for free things to do in Europe. Many of the sites are free and looking for activities that don’t cost you a thing can help you branch out and try new things!
45. Know How to Use the Restrooms
Many European bathrooms will charge you to use them. Some cities, like Paris, have little toilet huts (I don’t know what else to call them) in the middle of the city that require some coins to enter. Other bathrooms will have turnstiles to enter the bathrooms, others will have a bathroom attendant who collects your money and keeps the bathroom tidy.
There are all sorts of restroom situations in Europe, so just be prepared for anything and always have coins on you. I’d say the average bathroom fee is 50 Euro cents.
46. Keep a Travel Journal
When I was little and taking my first trip to Europe, my grandma made me keep a travel journal. I hated it! But now, of course, I look back on that journal and love reading it! Keep a small, simple journal with you and write about each day. I love this travel journal because it has writing prompts included.
47. Talk to the Locals
The best way to get to know a destination is to get to know its people. Don’t be afraid to talk with the locals. Learn their stories. They have probably lived in the area for a long time and can tell you the best places to eat and spend time. We’ve made some lifelong friends that we still keep in touch with this way.
48. Be a Responsible Tourist
Overtourism is becoming a real problem in Europe. With so many tourists visiting each year, cities are getting more and more crowded and more and more polluted. When you travel to Europe, be responsible. Remember that you are a guest in another country. Please behave as if you were visiting a distant relative. Don’t litter, don’t be too loud or obnoxious, and respect their rules.
Also, be mindful of the environment. Limit plastic usage by bringing a reusable water bottle from home and avoiding plastic straws.
If you find an opportunity to volunteer when you travel through Europe, this can be a great way to make an impact and a memorable way to spend your trip. Check out JustServe.org for volunteer opportunities around the globe.
50. Expect Problems and Roll with the Punches
Expect problems on your first trip to Europe. It’s only natural that not everything will go to plan. For as many times as I’ve been to Europe, I have yet to have one trip go smoothly. One time I almost got robbed, another time a Taxi driver drove off with ALL my bags, once my husband missed a train while I had 4 little kids and all the luggage.
Traveling is just like life. There will always be hiccups along the way, but this makes travel exciting and memorable! The hiccups are all part of the experience. The trick is to enjoy the ride and make the most of any situation. Don’t let the setbacks ruin your trip.
BONUS 51. Have Fun!
I hope this one is a given. It’s nearly impossible not to have fun while traveling in Europe. Now that you’re armed with all these tips, I hope you’re ready to book your flights!