Planning Your European Vacation
From itineraries to passports to packing and more
9. Make use of Europe's tourist information offices in North America
Every European nation maintains such bureaus in New York, and some do in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major cities as well. Their only function is to serve you, by answering specific inquiries, by responding to requests for free literature on accommodations, sights, customs, whatever. You may, incidentally, want to request that they advise you of dates when it is not advisable to arrive in their cities or travel their roads (on August 1 in France, during the time of the Edinburgh Festival or the Paris Air Show).
10. Watch your language
Study some basic phrases in the languages of the countries you plan to visit before you leave; you'll make friends, and encounter better service, if you do. Most bookstores are well supplied with phrase books enabling you to decipher European menus, to count from one to a hundred, to exchange salutations or to make simple requests.
11. And create some electricity
Buy European converters and adapters for your appliances (hair dryers and the like) that you can learn about in our Travel Product section. Since European voltages and socket designs are different from ours, it's often important to schedule a brief visit to a major department store to survey the simple devices needed to keep your appliances functional. Or else choose them from the catalogues of the travel product manufacturers (see above), or buy a comprehensive kit of such items.
12. "Network" before you go
Obtain the names and addresses of Europeans whom you can look up at your various destinations. The organization called "Servas" at 11 John Street in New York City, will supply you with such names, so will the English-Speaking Union at 16 East 69th Street in New York City (but confined, of course, to Britain). Meeting Europeans, visiting their homes, enjoying their company in a non-touristic setting, can be the supreme highlight of a European trip, and the activity should be approached deliberately, and not in the helter-skelter, hoping-lightning-will-strike, fashion adopted by most tourists. Pester your friends and relatives for names of Europeans they know!
13. Make reservations for European lodgings
Provided only that you're willing to accept the consequences of a rigid, fixed itinerary, in which every stay is scheduled, write ahead for the assurance of a specific, named, hotel in each city (or else deliberately forego the use of advance reservations, in which case you'll want to supply yourself with travel guides and other lists of approved recommendations for finding lodgings on the spot). E-mail is the easiest way to contact hotels overseas. You can usually contact a hotel electronically through its Web site.
14. "Join up" to save
If you're a budget-conscious traveler, join Hosteling-International (the former American Youth Hostels, Inc.) before you depart, and thus obtain their list of inexpensive, European youth hostels accommodating persons of all ages (in Europe, the term "youth" in the title of these establishments is defined to mean "young in spirit" and not young in terms of chronological age). If you qualify, you'll also want to obtain an International Student Identity Card from STA Travel or other sources, and thereby acquire the right to use the low-cost student facilities (student hotels, student restaurants, student discounts at museums and theaters) of Europe. In the scope and quality of its student travel facilities, Europe leads the world.
15. Finally, pack light
Confine your luggage to one medium-sized suitcase, lightly packed. To take more is to make yourself a "beast of burden," a prisoner of expensive porters and taxicabs! If you've taken too little, you can always remedy the deficiency in Europe, by simply buying the item of apparel that you've neglected to bring.
And there you have it--a "check-list" based on many decades spent traveling to Europe, the destination that never wanes in appeal. I wish you a safe, pleasant and rewarding trip.