While planning my trip to Europe I read a countless number of websites for tips and advice. I enjoy planning the logistics of a trip almost as much as the trip itself so I greatly enjoy this kind of thing. Since getting back from my trip I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I have any advice and/or things that I’d do differently and I thought I’d compile a list. It’ll probably benefit me when I plan my next trip more than it will benefit anyone else… but here it is.
+ Have a chip & pin credit card – I wish I had paid more attention to these prior to my trip. All of the card readers in the UK are the type where you hold your credit card’s chip up to the reader instead of swiping your magnetic strip through it. You can still swipe but it’s apparently an uncommon thing considering how many cashiers were surprised when I wanted to. I also wasn’t able to rent a bike in Dublin because the self-serve kiosk only worked with cards that have a chip in them.
+ Make sure your credit card has a 0% foreign transaction fee – Even though my credit card wasn’t a chip & pin card it did serve me well and I used it whenever I was paying for larger amounts (like hostels or transportation) so that I didn’t have to keep large amounts of currency on me at all times.
+ Get a Schwab debit card – I did my research before leaving on my trip and thought that I’d be able to find ATMs that were partnered with my bank (which is Bank of America) and thus avoid the ATM fees. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought to locate the correct ATMs when I wanted them.
Schwab has a debit card that waives all ATM fees worldwide and I wish that I’d had one while on my trip. I already had a brokerage account with them so it was a piece of cake to add the debit card. This will be my debit card for all future travels.
+ Plan all of your lodging in advance – This might not be as big of a deal for some people but for me I only wanted to stay in all female rooms at hostels and those weren’t always available last minute. I don’t regret booking any of them in advance and it was one less thing to worry about during the trip. Some people would say that not having reservations creates more flexibility but I’d rather not spend my travel time trying to book a hostel.
+ Airbnb can be cheaper than hostels – If you’re traveling with friends it can often be cheaper to rent an apartment than it is to pay for everyone to stay in a hostel (let alone a hotel). It’s something I really regret not looking into sooner. Be sure to sign up with a referral code to save $25 off your first stay (you can use mine if you need one).
Other than bringing your passport and money, the most important thing you can bring with you is your smartphone. If you don’t have one, borrow a tablet or an old smartphone from someone. I never bothered with getting a data plan while I was there and instead I just used wifi the entire time and it worked out well.
+ Starbucks is the gold standard of free wifi – Most places, even fast food joints, will have wifi. However, a lot of them require sending a code via text message in order to use their wifi. Since I didn’t have a data plan and thus didn’t have a local phone number I could never use the wifi at those places. Most mom & pop shops will have open wifi and every Starbucks I went to (or stood nearby) had wifi that was easy to get onto.
+ Text US numbers using Google Voice – It’s free to get a Google Voice phone number and you can turn on texting for that number for free as well. Having this meant that I was able to text people at home whenever I had a wifi connection. I did this from both my computer and my phone. Even with a data plan I’d still text using this method to save myself from texting from an international number.
+ TripIt – I love this app. It takes all of your reservations (flights, hotels, tours) and organizes them into chronological order in a really easy to view fashion. I don’t use TripIt for shorter trips but my trip to Europe involved numerous different flights and hotel bookings so having those reference numbers handy on my phone was great.
I used the website as I planned the trip and then the app on my phone to view the info during the trip. The app downloads everything so you’ll have access to your confirmation numbers offline and it brings up the one you’re most likely to need presently when you open the app.
+ Spotify – This isn’t really travel advice but I’ll throw it in there. I use Spotify on a daily basis and pay the $10 a month to have Premium. This allows me to download music to my phone so I loaded up my phone with music before the trip and used it the entire time without ever needing an internet connection. Plus I could create new playlists on the go to fit my mood.
+ Currency converter app – If you don’t enjoy doing math in your head, having one of these apps already downloaded to your phone can be handy.
+ Use Google Maps offline feature – Using the Google Maps app on your phone you can download chunks of maps to your phone so that they work in offline mode. You won’t be able to search for places on the map without an internet connection but you can zoom around on the map and use the GPS on your phone to pinpoint where you are if you get confused. I always downloaded enough of each city to cover the areas that I planned to go to.
+ Have step-by-step directions for travel days – I had a note in Evernote the had my own step-by-step directions from each airport/train station/whatever to the hostel that I was staying at. I did this for my own piece of mind but I was grateful that I always had an easy plan of attack upon arriving at a new place. When you have all of your luggage with you is not when you want to be confused about which bus to get on. I also printed a hard copy just in case something happened to my phone and I kept that copy in the outside pocket of my backpack. Use the advice on the hostel’s actual website in addition to Google Maps to help make the best step-by-step directions.
+ Use packing cubes – I used these for the first time on this trip and I’m in love with them. I know they probably sound over the top to most people but I will never go on another long trip without them. They’re particularly useful for trips where you move from place to place a lot. I have the eBags ones and I like using multiple of the small size instead of using the medium or large ones, but that’s just me.
+ Bring a toiletry bag with a hook – Most hostels don’t have a lot of space to set your stuff down so being able to hang your bag onto something is handy and keeps your bag from ending up on the (potentially wet) floor.
+ Update: Since writing this post I’ve learned some more things about what to pack for Europe. Check out 8 Essential Things When Packing for Europe for more packing advice.
+ Keep a daily log of what you did that day – I quickly found everything blurring together in my mind so at the end of each day I’d create a note in Evernote and jot down a quick list of what I did that day. It’s fun to look back on and helpful for scrapbooking/blogging after the trip.
If You’re Not An Idiot
Do buy an actual waterPROOF jacket, not a water resistant one. I’m serious people, this one is important. Not speaking from experience. ;)
I’d love to hear about everyone’s travel plans! Is anyone going to Europe soon?
If London is part of your travel plans you might also enjoy this Roundup of London Posts From Across the Web.