Welcome to Europe Planning course 101, this post highlights the prep work, information, and research that you will need for planning a trip to Europe. We have also included a Europe Travel Checklist to guide you from paperwork, insurance to packing for an unforgettable European Vacation.
Exploring the European continent is every traveler’s dream. This continent has nature, adventure, history, royalty, cuisine, fashion, and shopping re-treat to satisfy every type of traveler. There are 50 sovereign states/countries in the European continent. Out of the 50 countries, 26 countries are part of the Schengen Visa agreement, which makes traveling very convenient.
Planning a Trip to Europe & Europe Travel Checklist
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Why should you visit Europe?
There are many reasons why you should consider visiting the mighty continent of Europe.
- History – From the western Allied Powers to the Eastern Bloc, the European continent has chapters and chapters of history lessons that you shouldn’t miss. In many ways, it has the answer to many present political status and geographical existence.
- Sheer size and diversity – the European continent is huge, so rest assured you will experience different cultures and cuisines in every length and breadth of the continent
- Popular tourist areas – Most cities in Europe are often romanticized in our books, television, and movies, so not exploring Paris or London or St Petersburg or Rome means you are missing out!
Welcome to Europe Planning 101 – Planning a Trip to Europe
Things to consider when planning a trip to Europe.
Choosing the country of travel in Europe
- Choose where you wish to travel to. There are different visa requirements for different countries in Europe.
- You can choose a specific country based on personal interest, wishlist, the time you wish to spend in exploring a country or simply based on a great vacation deal
- I have always wanted to visit London, just cause 🙂
- Oh, Paris ~ or everything French. Dreaming of spending a lot of time in that country, maybe a month or two – explore its countryside, attend a cooking class or two. We did visit Paris for days recently, can’t wait to go back. Get our Paris trip itinerary and guide
- Iceland-Air flight deals from Canada/US – $449 return trip, now who can ignore that! Visit Iceland and experience the Northern Lights = Amazing. Read my itinerary to Iceland or what to eat in Iceland
- I wish to live in an igloo in Finland in winter. Or try out saunas in Helsinki in summer. Fingers crossed, hopefully soon!
- Or travel for celebrations, like a beer fest in Germany or Easter Markets
Planning to visit ONE country in Europe
If you plan on visiting one city or country in Europe, keep the following things in mind
- Choose the country or city
- Check flights to the city and/or nearby city. Sometimes flights to satellite cities are cheaper.
- If you have not selected the city of choice, then look for the cheapest deals from your city of residence and head there. We traveled to Iceland over a 4 day weekend and just explored that country. Flights were cheap via IcelandAir, as well as hotels and tours.
- Budget – One way of saving is to book in advance and online for hotels and tours like the southern coast of Iceland Tour. You can also save on subway tickets or day passes for the city you are visiting.
- In-depth exploration – Visiting one city or a small country will allow you to settle into the new city to explore and learn more about the history and the place itself. You can also plan an extended stay in one country.
- Visa/Travel documents – Check the visa or travel documents required for the city
- Where to stay – Use Booking.com to search for best hotel rates in Europe
- Consider the number of days off from work or school
Planning to visit MULTIPLE countries in Europe
We have found that visiting multiple cities and countries is possible and one the MOST effective use of your time and money in Europe. There are tons of beautiful cities in Europe to choose from
- Most European nations are located 1 to 4 hours away (major city to city). So don’t waste the gift of close proximity. Here in Canada, my commute from work and back is more than one hour!
- Once you choose the city/country of your choice, book your flights. Then book trains or buses or tours to explore nearby countries as a day trip or stay in each country for a day or two.
- If you require a visa (Schengen visa), utilize the visa granted to make the most of your Europe trip and visit multiple cities/countries.
So, if you are considering visiting multiple countries, it’s a GREAT choice, especially if you are traveling from the United States, Canada, India, or Australia. You had invested a lot of time, money, and flying hours that you deserve to check off more from the European trip bucket list.
You can go as FAST as you want or as SLOW as you want, depending on your interest, funds, and time off (from work or school).
You might also find that you may or may not like some cities or countryside and want to stick to the MAJOR cities and cover the main highlights. A day or two might be enough for you.
Or you might like to explore MORE (city and countryside) and cover 3 countries in 3 weeks of time off, it all depends. I have clubbed some countries and areas together here which are close to each other and can be explored in a week and up to 3 weeks. You can definitely revise this to include only the major cities.
The list below is created based on ease of travel with trains, buses, and tours (or drive), without the use of flights in reaching from one country to another.
|Central Europe||2 weeks, 5 countries||Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary|
|Southern Europe||3 -4 weeks, 4 countries (or 6)||Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Switzerland, Gibraltar (+ Morocco in Africa – different visas are required for them)|
|Eastern Europe||4 weeks, 4 countries||Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria|
|Western Europe||10-12 days, 4 countries||France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg|
|Benelux||7-10 days, 3 countries||Belgium, Luxembourg and Netherlands|
|United Kingdom +||15 days, 4 nations||Britain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland|
|Nordic/Scandinavian||4 countries, 2 weeks||Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden|
|Balkans||1 month+||Greece, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Slovenia|
Budgeting for Europe Travel
- Flights and budget: Budget your trip based on flight availability. Consider frequency and pricing when you decide to fly to Europe. Most international flights go on sale 335 days before departure. A common rule is to book three months before the trip instead of booking too far in advance. Use SkyScanner to track flights.
- Train travel: Use railways thereafter entering the main country to explore other European countries to stay on budget and save time. Trains are a great way to commute within the European continent. You can choose from high-speed trains or regional trains to connect you to various destinations in Europe. If you prefer trains (or public transportation) as your main mode of travel in Europe, consider purchasing discount passes like
- Eurail Pass
- Country specific passes like Swiss Pass
- Or regional specific passes like Benelux (Belgium-Netherlands- Luxembourg pass)
- Accommodation tips: There are different ways to save on accommodation in Europe. Choose from luxury hotels, hostel, Airbnb, or couch surfing. Accommodation can be pricey or inexpensive depending on your destination. For example, when we traveled to Sarajevo in Bosnia- Herzegovina, we scored a hotel room for 50 USD a night. But when we were in Paris finding a hotel room under $150 USD was a struggle. Hotel costs are also dependent on the neighborhoods. For finding the best rates and to save money, search hotels on Expedia and Booking.com. Due to the way hotel prices work, the best time is booking early.
Pro-tip: Sign up for hotel loyalty programs to save money on hotels. You can also save money (through travel miles) from your credit card company. Our Iceland trip was 50% paid off via miles/points collected on our credit card.
Exploring within European Nations
- It’s a great option to venture into Europe by train. You can reach another country in less than 3 hours (London to Paris is 2.15 hours by high-speed trains) and also look at the beautiful terrain outside.
- Rail Pass or no pass – If you planning to explore Europe in chunks, like say visiting Amsterdam, Luxembourg, and Brussels – get a rail pass “Benelux” – these passes allow you to travel within the 3 countries at a great price. We found rail passes to be effective and economical, especially if you intend to stay in a Eurozone or country for a substantial period of time. If you have your hotels, itinerary set by day – then it would be better to skip the passes and get an exact train ticket with a set train and time on it. I did the math for passes or no passes and in some situations, you are better off without buying a pass. Rail Pass website
- More on budgeting inter-country rail systems in Europe
- Ferry – Ferries are another way to get to nearby countries. Its a 3-4 hour ferry ride from London to Dublin, Ireland, costing about £40-50 Train and Ferry Information for Europe
- If you are road tripping, rent a car or embark on a journey touring Europe motorhome
- Low-cost Flights – Flying within the European continent is cheap too. With flights starting as low as £70 for a return trip to most destinations
Pre-packaged tours for Europe
You can also purchase pre-packaged tours for traveling within Europe. Guided tour companies will take care of sightseeing, hotels, and accommodation for a set price, all you have to do is book the flights and select a date of departure.
We recommend using Intrepid Travel or G Adventures for Europe tours. Both offer small group tours and are responsible, ethical travel providers.
- Intrepid Travel is perfect for all age group travelers. They provide accommodation in mid-range hotels
- G Adventures is more suited for solo travelers, within the age group of 18 to 39-year-olds.
Both are great options depending on your personal taste, and date of departure.
Commuting within the city
- Walking: If you are staying near the city center, you can easily walk and wander off to the tourist attractions
- Public transportation: From buses, trams to subway trains major European cities have efficient public transportation. It is an affordable means of transport. You can also save money by purchasing a transit pass (for a specific duration). Many of these passes also include discounted tickets to major tourist attractions. You can purchase them from GetYourGuide
- Hop on and Hop off: We love taking sightseeing buses like Hop on and Hop off style tours. These are not guided tours, but they allow you to conveniently cover all the touristy attractions without remembering all the addresses and landmarks. Even if you have not done any research, just hop on and get down if any attraction excites you! Easy-peasy. You can book them through GetYourGuide
- Taxi & private transfers: Always an easy option. Many cities also provide Uber services
Consider your travel documents
What passport do you possess?
- European Union passport – No Visa required
- Visa-exempt countries (like US, Canada, Australia) – No visa or online authorization required at this time for Schengen and non-Schengen zones. From January 2022, ETIAS is required before arriving in a Schengen zone only (more on that in the Europe Travel Checklist section below)
- Visa required – Schengen visas (applicable for 26 countries) and individual visas (like for UK, Russia, and some Balkan states, etc.) are required to be applied and approved ahead of time. Proper itinerary, insurance, and availability of funds are essential to be approved for a visa.
When to travel to Europe? Off-Season Travel
- Major tourist destinations in Europe are bustling with people during summers and winters, especially around Christmas
- February – March, September-November (fall in Europe) are good months to explore Europe with less crowd and maybe also score on a hot flight/vacation deal around the same time
Style of Travel to Europe
- Back Packing – Backpacking across Europe is a cost-saving and adventurous option to explore European countries
- Travel at your own pace, one city or one country at a time. You can spend one week in Spain or choose a specific city/area like spending one week in Tenerife in Spain
- Decide to stay at a hostel, if looking for cheap accommodation or at a 5 star/luxury hotel.
- Travel in small or big groups to explore many countries at a glance and cover more places. It’s a great way to get an orientation to the main cities and then select your favorite ones to explore it at length later
Get inspired for Europe travel
Once you have your destination decided, you can begin to visualize how the vacation might look like.
- Read up on interesting places to visit and things to do on various travel blogs, including ours 🙂
- Search Pinterest for destination photos and create your own inspiration board. Here is our Pinterest board – tosomeplacenew
- You can read Rick Steves Europe travel tips and Lonely Planet guides to curate your list of sightseeing activities
Europe Travel Checklist
Travel Documents for Europe
- Travel to European countries for up to 90 days (within a 180 day period) is available without any visa for passport holders of certain nationalities, including Canada. Use this website to find out, if you qualify to travel visa-free Do you need Visa to travel?
- Starting from January 2022, all previously visa-exempt countries will now have to apply for ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorization System) online before arriving or landing in a Schengen country.
- ETIAS can be applied online and the entry ticket/pass will be sent to the registered email in 24 hours or less
- Passport should be valid for 3 months after the intended date of departure from the Schengen zone.
- More on ETIAS here
- If your passport doesn’t allow for entry without a visa, then you will need to apply for Schengen visa or individual Visa Application
- Schengen visa – The 26 Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
- Read this comprehensive guide on Schengen Visas
- Schengen Visa Travel Insurance and itinerary are important while applying for Schengen Visa.
- You can choose single entry or multiple entries.
- England and Ireland do not belong to the Schengen scheme and hence individual (country) visa needs to be applied for. For visa to England, view resources here Visa for the UK
- Other travel documents
- 2 pieces of photo ID
- International Driver’s license (if driving in Europe)
- Flight reservations, tours, and insurance
- Photocopies of your passport
Travel Insurance for Europe
We highly recommend getting travel insurance when vacationing or traveling in Europe. For Schengen visa holders, it is mandatory to get insurance and provide supporting documents when applying for a visa. Most of the EU nations require you to have medical insurance for 30,000 EUR upon entry. So it’s a good idea to shop for insurance quotes. Here is what good travel insurance should include
- Travel insurance includes emergency medical assistance and trip cancellation related coverage
- Getting insurance is advisable when traveling outside the country, mainly for medical reasons, followed by reimbursement if a trip cancels
- Consider trip cancellation, lost baggage, flight accidents, terrorism coverage as some of the premium coverage options
- Schengen Visa is required to include the repatriation of remains coverage as well.
Packing Lists for Europe
Here are some of the packing essentials for your Europe Trip planning
Anti-theft Day Pack
European cities are popular, crowded, and huge tourist (and pickpocket) magnets. Keep your belongings safe and secure in an anti-theft bag. These bags are made up of special material that is cut off and slash-proof, making it impossible for thieves to get access.
Some come with RFID protection to safeguard your credit cards and passport codes.
- I would recommend one day-pack here, which is a great size to fit your essential documents, electronics, and 2-3 pieces of clothes. Check out the Pacsafe Venturesafe Daypack 25L
- If you are traveling in overnight trains or coach, use secured wire which you can latch to a pole or a chair, so that they are secure
As always, be aware of your surroundings, keep yourself safe first (you can always buy things or replace your documents. It’s a hassle, sure, but your safety comes first)
Clothes for Europe packing tips
Moving on to clothes. Who wouldn’t want to look great in photos while on vacation? I know I do. Start with the weather.
Regardless of any weather. make sure you pack this item -Waterproof/windproof pack-able jackets. They will handy at all times in Europe, with their unpredictable weather (sometimes).
Also, they are the BEST. They take less space and are LIGHTEST. They are a must-have for long flights, evening strolls, or just layer on, when the temperature drops. Here is my favorite jacket
- Here is a packable jacket for men
Spring/Fall/Summer Packing for Europe
If you are traveling during Spring-summer-fall months, definitely carry some light dresses, linen pants, casual shirts, and blouses. They are nice to wear during the day. And will dry faster when you wash them.
- 2-3 Light blouses/tops/shirts
- 1-2 linen pants/jeans
- 2-3 dresses (I love wearing dresses)
- Light Scarf
- Light jacket (windproof/water resistant/packable)
- Cardigan (spring/fall)
- Trench Coat (spring/fall)
- Comfortable walking shoes – covered.
- Swimwear (if needed)
GRAB A FREE PACKING CHECKLIST
Winter Packing for Europe
During winters, of course, additional winter clothing will be required. Ditch the dresses and carry gloves, hat, thermal wear, scarves, and warm/woolen coat or parka. Typically winter temperatures are -5 to 10 degrees Celsius.
If you are traveling to Iceland for winters and plan on hiking, additional clothing or hiking shoes are required. Remember to layer on
- 2-3 tops/shirts
- 1-2 linen pants/jeans
- 1 dress (if needed)
- Light jacket (windproof/water resistant/packable)
- Cardigan or thermals
- Wool Coat or Parka (with hood)
- Comfortable walking shoes or boots (or hiking shoes)
- Hat/beret/warm cap
Shoes for Europe
Wear comfortable walking shoes. Europe is filled with cobblestone lanes and market squares and you will be walking a LOT. So wear comfortable shoes. Choose a pair of shoes that go well with dresses, coats, and pants like these slip-on shoes
I use packing cubes to fill my backpack. It keeps things organized. At the hotel, I take the cube out and only carry the backpack with the day’s essentials like a camera, water bottle, phone, etc. Here is what I carry and use
It rains a lot in Europe. Maybe not so much in the summertime. But if you are traveling in fall or spring (which are off-season), chances are you will be showered with blessings every now and then.
We were in Budapest in spring and it rained, so we bought an umbrella there. Not a bad idea, you would think, but – but Europe is also windy and carrying an umbrella in crowded areas is NOT fun (nor are your hands-free).
So take a PONCHO instead. We now carry a poncho with us, so convenient and it protects our tote bag and backpack when we are out and about exploring
Cosmetics and Medications
Carry your medicines, regular prescription drugs that you use. Avoid carrying full-size shampoos or body wash. Fill them in travel size containers and carry them like this one
Pack Light – Always travel light
If you are flying budget airlines, you will have to pay luggage fees for extra bags, why do that? Save it for travel. Travel light.
Travel light to be in and out of the airports (without heading to the baggage claim area)
Also handy, as you can land and start exploring RIGHT AWAY. That is what we did in Munich and Iceland (Keflavik). We landed and grabbed a coffee and out we go to explore the new city.
Charging Adaptors for your electronics
An adaptor is a MUST pack item when you are traveling to Europe from other continents. An adaptor allows you to plug your electronic device from one country into the wall outlet of a country in Europe. Whether you are traveling from North America or Asia, you will need one. We carry one with us, that was multiple adaptor ports to connect to different countries when we travel.
A word about adaptors versus converters. Converters help in converting electricity. Like they allow a dual voltage appliance to be converted into the voltage recommended for that country, where you are using it in.
They include items like hairdryers, shaving machines, etc, but only if they are dual voltage. Converters are not designed for “continuous duty” and should only be used for short periods of time, unlike adaptors that you can use for prolong periods of time to charge your electronics.
Apps to download for Europe trip
Most of the hotels, cafes in Europe will provide you will FREE WiFi. These handy apps are a MUST have on your phone or tablet. Download them as part of your packing checklist!
- Viber or WhatsApp – to make calls and send messages overseas (from Europe to anywhere)
- Flight Alert – Track flight delays, cancellations, etc
- XE.com – For currency conversion
- Offline Maps – Very handy for navigation if free WiFi isn’t available
- Weather Network
- TripIt – Plan out your itinerary and activities
- Expenses Tracker – Keep a log of your spending, expenses
Cell phones for Europe – International travel
We have survived all of our Europe trips without
cell-phones sim cards. The maximum we have stayed in Europe is around 3 weeks.
We have been constantly on the go, hopping from one country to another and we use Facebook, WhatsApp, iMessage to stay connected with friends and family. (The strike on the cell phone is because I use the cell phone for everything, my planning, photos, editing on the go and whatnot). Our friends who travel long term, recommend using one of the following, and you can easily purchase them online from Amazon prior to your visit
- Cellhire Europe SIM data.
- O2 Prepaid SIM Card.
- Orange Holiday Europe SIM Card.
Currency Exchange and Credit Cards
All the Schengen zone countries accept euros as a medium of exchange. But you will also find that each of these countries also has their national currency like Krona (ISK) in Iceland or Floriant in Prague, Czech Republic. So many times you might get change back in their local currency, even if you pay in Euros.
That’s where credit cards come in. If you have an international credit card (which most banks provide bow-a-days), use that instead to avoid carrying cash or change.
In our opinion and recommendation, carry both. We carry some cash (euro bills) to pay for subway tickets, coffee, washrooms, snack, etc. Our credit card is our back up, in case we ran out of money or an emergency.
While traveling in Central Europe, from Prague to Budapest, their national/local currencies are different, so we ended up spending all the Prague currency (the loose change we got, it was not a lot though).
For countries outside the Schengen zone, like the UK uses GB pounds, Russia uses the Russian Ruble. A credit card will save the hassle of currency exchange if you are traveling to multiple countries in or without the Schengen Zone.
Car rental and Driving in Europe
If you plan on driving in Europe, you will need an international driver’s license. (Our American, Canadian provincial or Indian license won’t work). Apply for an international driver’s license and make sure it’s valid before your travel.
Most car rentals will have standard transition (auto transmission is expensive and most rental cars carry a limited number of cars and MUST be reserved ahead of time).
We use a combination of tours, public transit, buses, trains and I can’t drive standard cars *oops* But if you do, then remember – international driver’s license, take insurance and standard drive. Planning to drive across the European continent? Read this handy guide to driving in Europe
Additional Reading – Inspiration for Europe Travels, Tips and Itineraries
We love traveling to European countries and have a whole list of short itineraries for you to consider. Find them below
- Central and Western Europe
- Eastern Europe Inspiration (including Balkans)
- Nordic/Scandinavian countries