Europe is a wonderful mixture of history, culture, great food and amazing people.  Taking a trip to Europe is different to anything else you can experience.  The problem is that Europe is big, has a lot to see and will take you a lot of trips to truly appreciate.  I have traveled to a lot of different European countries and cities and would visit them again because there is always something new to see.  To make sure you get the most out of any trip to Europe, you need to plan it correctly.  I once went to Hamburg without any planning and ended up not seeing much and being completely out of my depth.

Decide Where You Want To Go

Choice Sign

Deciding where you want to go is the first step in planning any trip and Europe is no exception.  This might actually be more important that you think because Europe is big and there are a lot of cities and countries you could visit. If you have a destination that you have always wanted to visit, plan for this destination.  If you do not have a must-see destination, you should look at websites and guidebooks to find out where you would want to go.

If you are searching for a country to visit, you should think about what you want to see.  I love anything that is old which doesn’t help with Europe, but I also love church architecture which is something I look for when I travel.  If you love the ocean, you can look at the Mediterranean countries like Portugal and Italy or you could look at the North or Baltic Sea countries like Germany and the Netherlands.

One of the great things about Europe is that you do not have to stay in one country if you don’t want to.  26 countries in the EU also make up the Schengen Area which allows free movement of people and is covered by a Schengen Visa.  This means that you only need one visa to travel between these countries, which opens up your travel options.

So the idea of traveling to a number of different places on your trip might be appealing.  After all, you will get to see more of Europe this way, but you need to be careful.  You should avoid over-packing your itinerary with too many destinations.  Every city in Europe has a lot for you to see and trying to pack too many sites will tire you and leave you feeling annoyed because you will not retain everything.  Your trip will just be a blur of driving or taking the train and checking in and out of your accommodation.

Decide When You Want To Go

A men scheduling in a calendar

Different countries should be seen at different times of the year.  I have been to Malta in the summer and the winter and found that winter is much better.  This little Mediterranean nation is warm all year, but the summer can easily reach 30°C which is too hot for me.  The time of year will also determine the costs as many European countries are more expensive to visit during the summer, but there are certain winter destinations that are cheaper in the summer.

Flexibility with travel dates is important because it gives you more options.  You will also be able to see certain seasonal festivities in the different countries.  Christmas markets in Germany are a must see while Greece offers some of the best beach culture for the summer months.

One thing to keep in mind when choosing travel dates is what will be open.  There are some places in most cities which are only open to the public at certain times of the year.  If there is something that you have to see, you need to check this because you do not want to arrive only to find that you can’t get in.  I know that there are certain scenic routes in Norway which are closed during the winter months because of the snow.

Get Your Documents In Order

Stamp and passaports

Once you know where you want to go, you need to look at the legal documents you need.  You have to have a valid passport that needs at least 6 months on it after the dates of your trip.  If you don’t have a passport, you need to apply for one as soon as possible because it could take 4 to 6 weeks.  There are some countries that have rush or emergency passport application options, but this can be expensive and you generally need a better reason than wanting to go on holiday.

Depending on where you are traveling from, you might need a Schengen visa to visit Europe.  If you are coming from visa waiver countries, you can enter Europe for a period of 90 days within a 180-day period without a visa.  If you are traveling to a country in Europe that is not a member of the Schengen Area, you have to check the visa regulations because you might have to get a national visa.

If you are traveling from a non-visa waiver country, you will need to get a Schengen visa.  This visa will be valid for the amount of time you are going to spend in Europe and will cover all of the countries you are going to visit.  To get this visa, you will need to apply at the consulate or embassy of the country you will be landing in.  This means that if you are visiting Italy, you have to go to the Italian consulate even if you are going to visit Spain as well.

If you are going to be renting a car in Europe, you will need to have a valid driver’s license.  There are some rental companies that want you to have an international license as well.  You can get this license through the driving license authority of your country.

Establish Your Budget

magnifying glass zooming in euro cents

Establishing your budget as early as possible is important.  It is very easy to overspend when you are in Europe.  Not only are there a lot of tourist stores, Berlin seems to have one on every corner, but there is so much that you will want to do.  Fortunately, you can get an idea of the costs by searching online for all the places you want to visit.

The website for almost every major attraction in Europe will have the costs listed.  If you have a set budget for getting to Europe, you can then determine when you should be traveling.  I would recommend that you separate your budget into different sections.

The first section should be your budget for getting to Europe and the transport you are going to use in the country you visit.  The second should be for any attractions that you want to see such as museums and monuments.  You also need a section for your accommodation as well as a section for food.

Think About Different Types Of Accommodation

When it comes to accommodation, you have a lot of options in Europe.  Airbnb is one option and you can find accommodation everywhere in Europe on the website.  There are also traditional hotels and some budget hotel brands such as Ibis.  There are also hostels that you can stay in if you do not mind a dormitory room.

Bed and breakfasts are not as common as they used to be, but you could still find them at a push.  Other self-service accommodation is also available and can be found with a quick Google search.  There are some other more exotic accommodation options out there if you are willing to either pay a bit extra or live by certain rules.

You can stay in a glass igloo in Finland to see the Northern Lights.  If you are visiting Italy, you can also stay in a monastery.  However, if you are going the monastery route, you need to abide by certain rules and there is a curfew that you have to keep to.

Book Everything

Once you know what you want to do, you need to book everything.  Flights sell out and prices change all the time so you need to book as soon as you can.  With accommodation, you might be able to pay when you arrive instead of in advance which lowers the amount you need in your bank account.  I have stayed at a number of hotels that allow you to book online and then pay when you check in which really helps my budget.

Book hotel button in a keyboard

Booking everything is also vital if you are getting a visa.  For a Schengen visa, you will have to show where you are going to be staying, how you are getting there and that you have a ticket back home.  The same is necessary for the European countries that are not part of the Schengen Area.  Trying to get a visa without anything booked is almost impossible and will be a waste of money.

You Don’t Have To Rent A Car

You might be used to driving everywhere, but you don’t have to rent a car when you visit Europe.  When you book your hotel, you might be offered a deal for car rental, but you really need to consider if you actually need this.  Cities in Europe have good public transport and you can walk most places.

Renting a car should only be an option if you are going to be driving to outlying areas.  Even with these areas, you may be able to get a bus to them.  I remember this one beach on Malta which I thought would be a bit out of the way, but the bus went right to the road leading down to it.  There are also bike share schemes in most of the major cities in Europe and you can always get a taxi.

Know What Little Things To Pre-Book

While part of planning your trip to Europe is booking everything, there are some things that you do not have to book ahead of time.  Tickets to certain museums, monuments or exhibitions can be purchased on the day.  Transport tickets should also be bought when you are in the country because you have a better idea of what you actually need.

There are some little things that you need to pre-book.  If you are heading to Rome, I would suggest pre-booking tickets for the Colosseum and Roman Forum because you get priority entry.  When you consider that there are thousands of people visiting these monuments each day, you can see why you would want to bypass the lines.

Don’t Worry About Getting Euros Before You Travel

I remember my parents exchanging money before we traveled anywhere outside of home.  This is something that a lot of people still do because there is a reason for the travel exchange bureau.  The truth is that you don’t have to worry about this as much as you might.  A lot of people panic about getting Euros before they hit the continent, but this is less important that you might think.

When you land in Europe, you can simply draw money from an ATM at the airport.  The exchange rates will generally be better than anything you will get from the foreign exchange companies at home.  You will often be charged a fee for drawing the money, but the rate will still be better.

Euro notes coming out of ATM machines

The key is to draw enough money for things like taxis and nothing more.  You can use your card to pay for things in Europe and you will often be asked if you want to pay in Euros or your home currency.  If you choose your home currency, you will get the exchange rate at the time of the transaction and not the end of day rate your bank uses.

Planning your trip to Europe does not have to be hard.  You simply need to think about where you want to go and get all of your documents in place.  Being flexible will save you money and you might want to consider how many people are going to be visiting at the same time as you.