Planning Your European Vacation

From itineraries to passports to packing and more

Finally, you cannot undertake as lengthy a trip by car in Europe as you might have accomplished by train; for the fatigue of such journeys, especially on the secondary European roads, is considerable. And therefore, if you plan to rush from the Benelux countries to Scandinavia, then to Italy and Spain, you'll want to take a train, not a car. If your plans are more modest than that, you'll find that the car is the more enjoyable mode.

{Editor's note: in recent years, the arrival of the so-called "upstart airlines" has vastly reshaped the transportation landscape. In certain cases it is now possible to find cheaper airfares between cities than you will rail tickets. So be sure to check the websites of the upstarts--Ryannair, Virgin Express, Easyjet, Go, Midland Airlines and VG--before deciding on your method of transport.}

4. If you opt for a self-drive European car, make the booking now

Every well-informed travel counselor knows of car rental companies, or airline-sponsored car rental schemes, that will provide you with a car in Europe for about $175 (or less) per car per week, including unlimited mileage privileges--but only if you book the car from the U.S. or Canada, prior to departure. For the very best rates, check out the companies listed in our Car Rental Consolidator section. The same car would cost twice that if booked in Europe after arrival! Accordingly, make the decision now. And book the smallest and most fuel-efficient car your courage will allow; gasoline averages $3 a gallon in Europe. But if more than two of you will be occupying that small car, remember to specify that you want it equipped with a roof rack for luggage you are unable to fit in the trunk compartment.

5. If you opt to travel through Europe by train, decide now on whether to purchase a Eurailpass

It doesn't always pay. And the only way to determine whether such a pass will work for you, is to chart out your itinerary in advance, and then "price it" according to the differing options set forth on the Eurail Web site: www.eurail.com. There you will find the more than a dozen versions of the Eurailpass available to you, with their comparative advantages and disadvantages. If you ultimately decide to purchase one, remember that the Eurailpass is sold only in North America and never in Europe; it must be purchased here, in advance of departure, from your travel agent or from any of the European railroad commissions. For railroad travel limited to a particular European nation, it's also possible to purchase one of several cheaper, national rail passes limited to the trains of one country: the BritRail Pass, the Italian State Railway Pass, for instance. Again, they're sold only in North America, and must be picked up prior to departure.

6. Buy travelers checks

They're your best means of protection against the loss or theft of your funds while traveling in Europe. And they are instantly and conveniently refunded (if lost or stolen) by simply calling a toll-free number (supplied to you by the issuer) from any point in the world. If you plan to use your ATM card to supplement these, be sure it is one that is widely accepted at your destination.

7. Buy travel insurance before you leave

It is also vitally important that you protect yourself against other potential mishaps of European travel (or travel anywhere) by purchasing the key forms of travel insurance prior to your departure from home. Travel, after all, is an intricate activity in which some things occasionally go wrong: Luggage can be lost or delayed, accidents can occur (not simply on the plane, but more realistically on the many common carriers you'll use--buses, subways, trains and taxis), strikes or weather conditions can interrupt or delay travels, causing financial hardship. Smart travelers purchase travel insurance (visit out section on Insuring Yourself against future Mishaps or simply purchasing it from their travel agents.

8. Do your homework

Study in advance the history, culture and political setting of the European countries or cities you're about to visit. You'll enhance the enjoyment of your trip many times over if you do. Condensed histories of Europe by H.G. Wells or Hendrik Willem van Loon are in all libraries; so is Jensen's history of Western European art, as well as countless other books surveying the chief artistic, cultural and political institutions of Europe (for more book suggestions, please go to Advanced Reading for Travel). A few hours at this rewarding task will transform routine moments, in your European trip, into high adventure and profound understanding.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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