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How to Prepare to Travel to Europe for the First Time

first travel to europe

In the minds of millions of Americans, a trip to Europe is an unmissable experience to live at least once in a lifetime. There’s nothing quite like the old continent for many reasons.

You’ll be able to learn about centuries if not millennia of history and culture while on holiday, stay at some of the finest hotels in the world and dine at traditional Italian and French restaurants (just to name a few European cuisines that have earned global prestige). You’ll explore famous European cities that have always sparked the imagination of Americans and sunbathe on idyllic Mediterranean beaches.

But when it comes to planning the first trip to Europe, many may feel confused. After all, Europe is a large and diverse continent where you can find different climates, cultures, and landscapes. In this article, we’ll help you clear some of your doubts and you’ll learn about:

  • How to prepare for a trip to Europe in advance
  • Money facts you need to know about Europe
  • What to pack for Europe

How Far in Advance Should You Plan a Trip to Europe?

Booking a tour is much easier but many travelers appreciate how much more rewarding it can be to plan your European vacation independently. Of course, there are many factors that you will need to take into consideration when coming up with a timeline for your travel planning — how long you’re planning to stay for, your budget, etc.

However, most agree that the most comfortable time to start thinking about your holiday is around 6 months in advance:

  • 6 months before leaving: Think of where you’d like to go, buy some guidebooks and read travel blogs. Look for a place to rent if you intend to spend more than a couple of weeks in the same location.
  • 3 months before leaving: Book your flights (between 3-4 months in advance is the ideal time to find the best fares). Get your documents in order, since your European travel authorization will be directly linked to your passport. If you still don’t have one, draft your itinerary.
  • 2 months before leaving: This is when you get serious about hotel and transport reservations. You don’t want the best prices to be gone.
  • 1 month before leaving: Make a realistic assessment of your budget situation so that you will know exactly how much you will be able to spend per day. Get travel insurance and figure out how much luggage you’ll need.

Will I Need a Visa for Europe?

From 2021, American citizens will need a travel authorization in order to visit Europe. Fortunately, this will not take the form of a traditional visa but rather an electronic travel permit called ETIAS (Electronic Travel Information and Authorization System) that will grant entry into the Schengen area.

The ETIAS visa waiver will allow American travelers to enter Europe visa-free. No need to visit a European embassy or consulate in person, since ETIAS can be obtained entirely online in minutes.

Applicants will need to submit some basic information, enter their passport details and answer a few questions on their travel plans, and pay for the ETIAS application fee. Within a few business days, they’ll receive their approved ETIAS visa waiver via email. Some applications may take longer, especially if the application form is lacking information.

That’s why you won’t need to worry about the European visa far in advance. As long as you allow for the processing time, the ETIAS authorization can be an item on your travel checklist for the last weeks.

How Much Cash Should I Bring to Europe?

Money is always a worry for travelers. You don’t want to be left without it in a foreign country with weeks to go before your flight back.

The main currency within the European Union is the euro. However, some EU countries decided to keep their own currency other than the euro and some countries that are within the European continent are not part of the EU (and therefore, could not adopt the euro).

  • Countries that use the euro are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.
  • Countries in Europe that do not use the euro are: Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, FYR Macedonia, Moldova, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Poland, Norway, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

Travelers don’t need to carry a lot of cash with them while in Europe. Most European establishments will accept cash and you’ll easily find ATM machines. Carrying cash with you is a much higher risk as it exposes you to robberies and pickpocketing. Withdrawing a lot of money before traveling is also not ideal — you’re almost guaranteed to find better rates locally than at home.

What Should I Buy for a Trip to Europe?

If you’re an experienced traveler, you may already know what works for you. Here is some packing checklist advice for Europe:

  • Wheeled suitcase or travel backpack. Of course, one is lighter and better organized, the other is easier to carry around. It all depends on your travel style. If you plan to move much, remember that European cities almost always feature cobblestones and long-winded staircases.
  • Clothes. Remember that European weather can be unpredictable so even if you go during the summer, make sure to bring a few long-sleeved shirts with you.
  • Plug converters. Power outlets vary from country to country in Europe. Instead of buying a converter every time you change country, making sure to get a universal one while you’re still back at home will save you time and hassle.
  • Safety padlocks and good wallets. Thieves are at work in major tourist destinations. Bringing a small padlock and investing in a good wallet or money bag will grant you peace of mind.
  • Medicines. In case you’ll need them, you’ll of course be able to visit a pharmacy in Europe. However, bringing your prescription medications, vitamins, and health-related products with you will make things easier.